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From the Stacks: Diving into ancestral lineage, author discovers explanations of today

by Kimberly Bolton | July 31, 2022 at 3:15 a.m.

Researching our ancestral lineage and history can be daunting, exciting, joyful, sad and sometimes even a bit scary. Maud Newton had questions concerning her ancestors, particularly after the drama and upsets between her parents during her childhood. Her journey in researching her family history branched out into genetics, epigenetics and the controversial subject of "intergenerational trauma."

In her book "Ancestor Trouble: A Reckoning and Reconciliation," Newton discusses the lack of curiosity about ancestors and ancestral history affects new generations of families. The influence of ancestors, Newton writes, and of our inherited genes, can have a profound impact on the people we are today.

Online genealogy sites such as and 23 and Me are a popular way to research ancestors and also the burgeoning market for consumer DNA testing which has become increasingly entangled with genealogical research. It is all a way of looking back into the past, our personal historical past, to follow the line of individuals directly related to us, who are responsible for how and why we are here today.

With her own recent and ancestral past interwoven throughout her book, Newton points out interest in ancestry is universal. It is a natural part of the human condition to seek connection to our forebears and to participate in spiritual and celebratory rites of ancestral worship, which has been practiced for millennia. However, here in the West, we have somehow relinquished that connection. In modern times when we bury a loved one, Newton comments, we seem to have come to the conclusion our relationship with that person is now ended when it doesn't have to be.

Newton focuses on her own relationship with her parents, as well as grandparents on both sides of her family, along with all the drama and angst she went through with her family growing up. She writes her research uncovered social and economic problems threaded throughout her lineage that has come down to affect her family relationships of today. She describes in detail her ancestors' involvement in stealing land from Native Americans, ancestors who held slavery as their God-given right, the prejudices and racism that ran rampant in her family down to the present day.

She goes on to describe how she worked through her findings to come to terms with her ancestors, to find peace and forgiveness within herself for the wrongs done to others by members of her family.

Having a deep interest in genealogy myself, I was captivated by Newton's take on ancestral research and her belief that when a loved one dies "mourning and ritual are imperative and collective." Giving deep consideration to our deceased family members is a way of reconnecting with the larger circle of humanity, whether or not we believe in spirits, or that the dead can hear us, or whether we take this sort of connectedness "as purely psychological, it is still our best way forward, helping to clarify who and where we come from and celebrate the ancestors who helped to get us here."

Kimberly Bolton is a circulation clerk at Missouri River Regional Library.

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