January 21, 2023


Publication Date: March 29, 2022

Print Length: 400 pages

Nominated as One of the Best Books of 2022 by The New Yorker, NPR, Time, Entertainment Weekly, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe


In Ancestor Trouble, Maud Newton wrestles with the essential question of how much we can learn about who we are by understanding the ancestors who came before us. Her own family history was troubled. Raised by a white supremacist father and a mother who started a church in the family living room, Newton questions what family traits she might have inherited from her parents and her parents’ parents. After researching her paternal and maternal relatives, she discovers a slave-owning past on both sides, a history of mental illness and a tendency towards religious fundamentalism. While Newton recounts her forays into her family history, she explores what is known about genetic genealogy, DNA research and intergenerational trauma. Her book is a fascinating combination of memoir, genealogical research and questioning about what makes up our identity and how knowing about the past can inform our sense of self.


Arsenault, Kerri, “From family trees to 23andMe and back again.” The New York Times, March 29, 2022 https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/29/books/review/maud-newton-ancestor-trouble.html
Martin, Kristen, “In ‘Ancestor Trouble’ Maud Newton wrestles with her family history.” NPR, March 29, 2022. https://www.npr.org/2022/03/29/1089170565/in-ancestor-trouble-maud-newton-wrestles-with-her-family-history
Gwinn, Mary Ann, “Review: How one writer learned to live with her deplorable ancestors.” Los Angeles Times, March 24, 2022. https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/books/story/2022-03-24/review-how-one-writer-learned-to-live-with-her-deplorable-ancestors
Dickey, Colin, “The weight of family history.” The New Republic. March 21, 2022. https://newrepublic.com/article/165792/weight-family-history-maud-newton-ancestor-trouble-book-review
Hendry, Surya, “Interview: Maud Newton, author of Ancestor Trouble.” Identity Theory, April 14, 2022. https://www.identitytheory.com/interview-maud-newton-ancestor-trouble/


  • To what extent can we better understand ourselves by learning more our family history and the strengths and weaknesses of the ancestors who preceded us? To what extent does history repeat itself?

  • Newton writes that what we think we know about the people who came before us is often wrong. In what ways resources such as DNA testing and databases such as Ancestry.com enable us to gain a more informed narrative regarding our family’s past?

  • Quoting Jung, Newton argues that we live under the influence of the questions that have been left incomplete and unanswered by our parents and grandparents. How much of the experiences, family dynamics and trauma from our ancestral past continue through time?

  • Through her own research, Newton believes that there is value in coming to terms with toxic family patterns, unresolved secrets, and the unhealed history of our ancestors. Can we truly heal the trauma experienced by relatives who are part of our family tree?

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Every month I offer a Book Club suggestion that highlights authors who write about their family history and explore themes of identity.
If you have books you would like to recommend, contact me at: kaia@kaiagallagher.com

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