ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Writer, traveler and filmmaker Neill McKee has been telling stories for most of his career. Now he’s set on sharing his family’s story, tracing his ancestry all the way back to the Mayflower.
McKee began researching his genealogy in 2013 and recently released his second travel memoir, Guns and Gods in My Genes: A 15,000-mile North American Search Through Four Centuries of History, to the Mayflower. Originally from Canada, McKee began tracing his family line through Ancestry.com and with records from family members. He and his wife came to Albuquerque in 2015 because she has family in the state and they fell in love with the creative community. “The community here is just so open and friendly. There were many groups we could join and become part of the community,” McKee said.
McKee was primarily a documentary filmmaker and worked with organizations like UNICEF and what he called the Canadian version of the Peace Corps. After many years of doing that, he decided to go to graduate school and focus on technical writing and communication. He wrote about social issues and gender issues and has worked in places like Malaysia, Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda, and Russia.
While he felt strongly about what he did, after 18 years of that kind of work he said he needed a change. He had many story ideas in his head but very little time to work on them when he was working full-time. Once he retired in 2012, he was ready to dig in and start writing for his own purposes.
(A canon at site of the Civil War’s Second Battle of Bull Run where McKee’s great grandfather, Lafayette Haskins, fought. Second photo Neill McKee beside tombstones of his great grandfather. Courtesy of Neill McKee)
McKee attended the University of New Mexico seminars for creative writing, and said he had to relearn everything he knew about writing. “If I had written Guns and Gods in the typical, chronological way, no one but family members would have read it,” McKee said. “It’s a completely different kind of writing and you have to take it from a totally different approach.”
McKee conducted travel research during the summers of 2017-2019, visiting Ontario, Canada and 22 American states. He tracked down the locations where his ancestors lived and visited museums and historical societies to uncover mistakes that other amateur genealogists had made on Ancestry.com.
McKee looks into both Canadian and American history, and throughout the book contemplates whether or not he will become an official US citizen. What started as a deep-dive into genealogy, has now set the author up as a way to share American history through his own personal history. He is currently working on his third and fourth memoirs about his childhood, and even has plans to look into the history and culture of the southwest in future projects.