Guns and Gods in My Genes by Neill McKee

The Book

Neill McKee, author of the award-winning travel memoir Finding Myself in Borneo, takes the reader through 400 years and 15,000 miles of an on-the-road adventure, discovering stories of his Scots-Irish ancestors in Canada, while uncovering their attitudes towards religion and guns.

His adventure turns south and west as he follows the trail of his maternal grandfather, a Canadian preacher who married an American woman in Wisconsin, and braved the American Wild West from 1904 to 1907, finding a two-story brothel across from one of his churches and a sheriff who owned a saloon and dance hall, while carrying a gun with 20 notches, one for each man he had killed.

Much to his surprise, McKee finds his American ancestors were involved in every major conflict on North American soil: the Civil War, the American Revolution, and the French and Indian War. In the last chapters, McKee discovers and documents his Pilgrim ancestors who arrived on the Mayflower, landing at Plymouth in 1620, and their Puritan descendants who fought in the early Indian Wars of New England.

With the help of professional genealogical research, he tracks down and tells the stories of the heroes, villains, rascals, as well as, the godly and ordinary folk in his genes, discovering many facts and exposing myths. He also lets readers in on a personal struggle: whether to apply for Canadian-United States dual citizenship or remain only a Canadian.

Print Length: 352 Pages

Genre: Historical Travel Memoir

ISBN-13: 9781732945739

Guns and Gods in My Genes is available to purchase now on

The Author

Neill McKee is a creative nonfiction writer based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His first travel memoir, Finding Myself in Borneo, won a bronze medal in the Independent Publishers Book Awards, 2020, as well as other awards. McKee holds a Bachelor’s Degree, from the University of Calgary and a Master’s Degree in Communication from Florida State University. He worked internationally for 45 years, becoming an expert in the field of communication for social change. He directed and produced a number of award-winning documentary films/videos and multimedia initiatives, and has written numerous articles and books in the field of development communication. During his international career, McKee worked for Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO); Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC); UNICEF; Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland; Academy for Educational Development and FHI 360, Washington, DC. He worked and lived in Malaysia, Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda, and Russia for a total of 18 years and traveled to over 80 countries on short-term assignments. In 2015, he settled in New Mexico, using his varied experiences, memories, and imagination in creative writing.

Find him online at:

Author’s website:





My Thoughts

His early graphic memories of deer hunting as a boy opens this treatise of Neill McKee’s hunt for ancestors. The reader not only goes along on his treks, but is also privy to his thinking and the lens through which he even asks questions about the past.

Made clear by the title, two themes run through the historical sleuthing are indeed guns and gods. At each generation he wonders whether or not his ancestor owned guns, and if so, what kind and for what. Some of his ancestors were pastors. McKee visits at least two services in churches where his ancestors had ministered, and from his own contemporary notes, extrapolates what kind of religion his forebears may have preached there.

The author documents how he learns everything, also adding his own imaginings. He has fun during several encounters, even naming a couple of dogs that come along to help check out ancestral holdings. At one point, to share information in a “more digestible form,” he does it through a rhyming poem.

Each generation is set in historical context as McKee also offers his own speculation as to how his predecessors may have reacted to what was current news at the time. The book is enhanced by a genealogy flow chart, maps, tables of ancestors, and extensive chapter notes.

If you enjoy genealogy, mystery or a fascinating search for history, Guns and Gods in My Genes is a compelling trek with the author to the places where his own ancestors actually lived.


  1. Great post, Joy. I will certainly have to read the book.

    Captain “Mad Jacob” Gardiner, who fought in the Battle of Oriskany on August 6, 1777, was a direct ancestor, as was General Nathanael Greene. Members of my family have defended this county from the Revolutionary War to the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I guess God and Guns are in my genes as well.

  2. The book sounds like one of those where the telling of the story is a story in itself. My maternal grandmother’s people were also Scots-Irish in Canada.

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