You might want to subscribe to Ancestor Hunger if the name makes intuitive sense to you. Other signs you may enjoy this newsletter include:
you’re always telling old family stories
you have a pile of photos of or letters from ancestors you didn’t know
you’ve spent hours (“hours” being a stand-in for a much longer length of time you’re uncomfortable acknowledging) combing through the 1870 census
you often find yourself pondering how your grandparents’ talents and foibles reverberate through your family
your ancestors did bad things, maybe even monstrous things, and you aren’t sure how to reckon with that history, what responsibility you have for it
your ancestors endured traumas that you don’t know how to stop feeling trapped or defined by
you did a DNA spit test and found missing parts of your family, but don’t know what to do now
you did a DNA spit test and are berating yourself for giving all your genetic information to a for-profit corporation
you worry about a history of mental illness in your family and what it means for you and your children (including whether you should have children)
you have more than a passing familiarity with the debate over whether multigenerational transmission of epigenetic changes can happen in humans
you increasingly feel some spiritual pull toward your ancestors, and you’re not sure what that means or what to do with it
you’re a writer or an artist of some other kind and you keep returning to themes in your work that seem connected to your family
you’re interested in understanding why other people are obsessed with researching their ancestors
you enjoy reading about other people’s messy families
you’ve sorted through these kinds of feelings and questions in your own family and have thoughts you’d like to share with me
I’ve been writing a book about ancestors for five years and writing about my own ancestors and my complicated relationship to their legacies for much longer.
Years ago, I was telling my friend Lizzie Skurnick that I needed to stop wasting time writing nonfiction about my family and looking up my ancestors on Ancestry.com because I needed to finish my important work: the novel I was writing. “Your family is your work,” she said. I was annoyed at the time! But she was right. This is the book I needed to write first.
Writing the book — which will eventually be published by Random House, probably in 2021 — has been an opportunity to read and think and feel widely about my ancestors and all our ancestors, about why we are drawn to them and what they mean for us.
The book is its own thing. These newsletters are some of my notes and thinking and experiences around the edges.
“Newton’s dispatches roam in attitude and tone from charmingly woo-woo to earnestly scientific, sometimes within the same letter. Give it a look, and see if your dreams don’t get a bit messed up.” — Darrell Reimer, Whisky Prajer
“Subscribe for religious and other beautiful things.” — Kate McKean, literary agent and writer
How It Works
The newsletter is free.
If you sign up, it will arrive in your inbox, probably on the first and third Tuesday or Wednesday of each month, possibly more often, possibly less. I’m still figuring out the contours and frequency of it.
If you don’t sign up but want to check in occasionally, you can read Ancestor Hunger here at Substack.