THE THEORY OF INHERITED MEMORY
BY LESTER J. HARTRICK
As I mentioned in my last web page entitled, THE PSYCHOLOGICAL BENEFITS OF GENEALOGY, I'm neither a philosopher, psychiatrist or psychologist, nor have I been trained in these disciplines. The thoughts that are presented here are strictly my own.
In this web page, I will attempt to illustrate the importance of the knowledge that the study of our progenitors can provide us. This through the insight gained from the study of their personal lives. With this knowledge we are better able to understand ourselves, for it is they who at least in part, have determined who we are.
Now for a moment, let's take a closer look at that elusive little fellow; our memory. Plato described memory as "...the mother of all muses...". The American playwright, Tennessee Williams said, "Life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going".
I specifically want to look at what I perceive to be memories that we have inherited from our ancestors. I believe that this process of inheritance could be best described as Genetic Programming. I have broached this idea to some of my more learned friends and most will concede that there appears to be some substance to this line of thinking. One response was that I was delving into an area of thought where no one had ever ventured before. If this be so, then, not knowing any better, I go boldly where no one has ventured before.
In the preface to the first edition of his ethical treatise The Critique of Pure Reason, , the German Philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote:
I believe that at least in part, Kant was struggling with feelings, attitudes and memories that he had not had personally experienced and for which he was unable to give an account.
Not knowing the source of these memories, he was unable to verbalize them. To his thoroughly logical mind, these thoughts had no understandable origin and thus, although these thoughts, images and questions were there in his mind, there was no logical way in which their presence could be explained.
I found Kant's work to be very heavy reading indeed. So much so that it is prone to give one a mental hernia. I guess that all of its original German humor was lost in its having been translated into English. Kant did however recognize and verbalize on one of the mind's many quirks. He documented that we are sometimes able to describe an object before that object has been presented to us. This knowledge he termed as knowledge that had been gained "a priori".
As a possible answer to Kant's dilemma let me offer what I immodestly title as Hartrick's Theory of Inherited Memory. This states that;
This initial knowledge is called BIOS, [Basic Input-Output System]. The basic instinctive knowledge that humans inherit could be described as "Human BIOS".
It does appear that instincts are relied upon to a greater extent in the non-human world. Ants, with their minuscule brains, instinctively know how to work together with others for their common good. They form fairly complex organized societies and thus survive. One of the wintering areas of the Monarch Butterfly is in the highlands of central Mexico. It spends its summers in northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This would appear to be an impossibly long migration for such a fragile insect. It actually is too long for one butterfly. The complete circuit from Mexico to Michigan and back to Mexico is accomplished by eight generations of butterflies! The entire flight plan is passed on from generation to generation by genetic programming and the whole circuit is repeated, year after year.
uncomfortable, while the room with the fireplace is overheated. The light from a fireplace is probably the least compelling of its features. Although probably done by our ancestors, can you imagine trying to read by the light given off by a fireplace!
Our ancestors for countless generations before us relied on a fire to provide heat and light. This whether it was an open fire in the center of a rude hut, in a fireplace or, more recently, in a stove, or parlor heater. This latter was often provided with mica windows so that the fire could be observed without opening the stove's doors. The fire was the central gathering place for the family. It was the location where several of our needs, as identified by Maslow, were met. Today we not only find warmth, but we also find that the social needs of belonging and acceptance are also satisfied by the fireside.
In it's various containers, a fire was a very necessary item in the daily lives of our ancestors. I believe that this message has been handed down to us in the form of inherited memory. Thus programmed, we seek to satisfy this now obsolete need for an open fire in our homes. I believe that In time, this craving for a fireplace will eventually disappear from future generations.
Another example of our simple propensities would be the liking for salt on our food. Why is this so? The immediate answer might be, "Because it makes our food taste better". But let's examine this a little more closely. Salt in itself tastes awful. Put a pinch in your mouth and you'll see what I mean. It's made up of two poisons, sodium and chlorine. It raises one's blood pressure and is altogether bad for us; still we like it's taste with food! Why?
Again, for countless generations the only means of preserving food was with salt. Thus our ancestors began to associate a salty taste with meat or fish and other preserved foodstuffs such as pickles. It's well known that eating, especially in the company of friends and/or family produces euphoria; that good feeling. Thus the message was implanted; "salt = good."
As the eating habits of this and future generations are modified by a reduction in our salt intake, this genetic message may well disappear. The U.S. Army has been preparing its meals with little or no salt for the past twenty years. Salt is provided at the table for those who want it, but I predict that it will disappear one day, just as the cigarettes that used to be provided with "C" rations, [field meals], have disappeared. It is my belief that the "salt = good "message will dim and eventually be erased from the genetic programming of future generations.
I have always been fond of the flavor of limes. This so much so that as a youngster, I asked my mother if there would be limes in heaven. I was assured by her that there would be limes in heaven. Using the theory of inherited memory, this preference for limes can be easily explained. The Hartricks of Old Ross raised limes as a cash crop. When harvested, and later when stored, [limes are easily stored, providing an excellent source of vitamin C], they most likely consumed goodly quantities of this delicious fruit. The genetic message passed down to me was "lime = good", and thus my liking of their taste.
While in the military, I served with a unit whose mission placed it in Germany. Since I served in the reserves, my tours of active duty were generally limited to two week training periods. Seven of these were in the heart of the lower or Rennish Palatinate. Fortunately, this was before I learned of my Palatine heritage, or I would probably have neglected my military duties in favor of genealogical research. It is also well that I didn't know of my German heritage at that time because it may well have influenced my thinking in the incident that I'm about to relate.
The unit was quartered in a small hotel south of Kaiserslautren, in the Rheinland Pfalz, of what was at that time West Germany. After a good German breakfast, I looked out of the window at a small lake and thought to myself, [in German], Ich liebe Deuischland!, [I love Germany!]. This was a feeling that I belonged here; a feeling of comfort. In the Army parlance of the time, I had a "warm fuzzy feeling", about Germany. This is the same feeling reported by Austin Bovenizer in his article, Ancestral Homeland: A Traverse of the Black Forrest / Palatinate Region of Germany, published in Newsletter No. 3 of The Irish Palatine Association, [December 1992]. He said, in part, of his experiences during his visit to Germany, " yet I had a strange feeling of familiarity and belonging ". This feeling of belonging was also expressed to me by at least two of my fellow soldiers who had German ancestry.
Long before learning any of the details of the history of the Hartricks of Ireland, I chose the name William for my son. A count of the Williams appearing in the Hartricks of Ireland family tree shows that this name entered ten times in its seven generations. His second given name of Henry, also appears prominently in the Clan's membership. The combination of names was chosen because they sounded good in combination with the surname. I'm sure that the genetic programming of these names made them sound familiar to me and was responsible for my choice.
In the light of the foregoing and my German origins, is it any wonder that I have a life long fondness for pretzels and mustard not to mention having a collection of cuckoo clocks?
Patrick Comeford, Foreign Editor of The Irish Times, lectured on the role of the Clergy in the Rising of 1798. This in Wexford Town, September 13th. 1996. In his lecture, he used the term "Inherited Memory" to account for the mind set of the Irish at that time.
Somewhere in the child's ancestry, someone may well have been a skilled musician or at least receptive to the musical skills of tonality or rhythms. This need not be an immediate ancestor. The propensity could have been passed down through any number of generations. The propensity was in the genes, just waiting for the proper degree of receptiveness in a later generation.
In that my military unit's mission was to operate in Germany and that we were to interface with our German counterparts, the Army required that we learn at least rudimentary German. This by way of cassette tapes that I listened to while driving to and from work each day. By this method, I learned a few basic German words and phrases; enough at least to be able to order a beer in any gasthaus. I did however find this frustrating when trying to have a conversation with a non-English speaking German, [yes, there really are a few]. In one instance, I wanted to express an idea and didn't know the necessary key German word. As I came to that part of my sentence, I made up a German sounding word to express my thought, and much to my surprise, I found that it turned out to be correct! I believe that the propensity for speaking German lay dormant in my mind all of my life until that moment of urgent need.
I had what I'll call one of my "Inherited Memory" flashbacks while reading a copy of an1877 German document with the heading "Im Namen Des König's". This I read and thought "In the name of the King" and went on to read the rest of the document. This is when I discovered that I had read the title which was in old Gothic German and had unconsciously translated it into English without having stopped to consider the process. Now I'll grant you that the translation was not all that difficult. However considering that my knowledge of German is limited to such phrases as, "Where is the train station", I think that the genetic memory kicked in again for a brief moment and gave me an assist with the translation.
The most recent German speaking Hartricks were at least six generations back into history. To my knowledge, the German language lay dormant until my generation where it surfaced in both my sister and myself.
In my scrapbook of magazine and newspaper articles on the subject of inherited memory, there are articles about children as young as three years old who have been reported as having taught themselves to read. This phenomenon has been called "spontaneous reading". Children who read in this fashion do not sound out words, they read entire words. Their mind deciphers language as if it were a code. When they crack the code, they read. These children weren't taught to read; the ability to do so was purely inherited!
One such scene in my mind's eye is a summertime setting of a country road with trees along either side. In the distance, the road curves to the left. I recognized no such scene while in Ireland. After returning home, I typed a transcription of the Hartrick portion of an 1817 document entitled, Observations on the Ram Estate. The Hartrick farms were located on this estate and the report included an inventory of each of the several types of trees on the property.
This listed trees as being planted "in avenue", along the rather lengthy driveway leading into the farmyard complex. It was only after a County Wexford friend told me that "in avenue" meant that the trees were planted side by side along each side of the driveway, that I realized that this may have been the source of my unexplained mental scene. What brought it forcibly to mind was my recollection that the roadway curved to the left as one leaves the farm. The trees planted "in avenue" were lime trees. During a 1996 trip to Ireland, I was once again disappointed in my search for a scene that I had remembered before actually seeing it. The driveway leading from "Moorfields", the ancestral home of the Hartrick Clan, did indeed turn to the left, but it was a sharp turn as opposed to being a sweeping curve. However I remain undaunted and will continue to search for the location of these mental snapshots.
Another of these scenes is that of myself as an infant, lying on a white satin pillow on the floor in a corner of a Victorian living room. I can clearly see the details of the room with it's half octagon front bay window. There is dark red wallpaper and the windows have contrasting dark green drapes. The room is cluttered with the accouterments in style at the time. I hadn't a clue of the source of this scene until a cousin told me of the existence of my great grandfathers home in Royal Oak, Michigan. From the outside I could see that it had a half octagon bay window in its front. A photograph of this home appears in the web page, The Hartricks of America. Unfortunately, the present owner wasn't at all hospitable and it soon became apparent that he wasn't at all pleased with the idea of a visit from me. There were two large dogs at hand with the same attitude, so I pursued the idea no further.
I'm rather satisfied that the scene was actually experienced by my grandfather and was passed along to me genetically. There are other such scenes, but these will suffice to illustrate my simple inherited recollections.
I have related some of my thoughts on inherited memory to a cousin in Australia. He responded that he too has had some similar experiences. I quote from one of his letters;
"Another incident for your theory revolves around a small design in an old dictionary. I have mentioned that I had few books as a kid. Among these few was a pocket sized dictionary that had long shed it's hard cover, but was otherwise intact. In the section under "M" was what I secretly called my favorite picture. It was a small black and white engraving simply titled "Mosaic". A checkered design bordered with tessellated edges. I did not know what it meant and could not understand why I should find it so absorbing. About 20 years later when I joined Freemasonry, I found out. All our lodge rooms have a central carpet of this design. My forbears on both sides have been involved in the order over the last 120 years for sure and possibly beyond that."
I believe Henry Z. Jones to be the foremost authority on the genealogy of the Irish and American Palatine families. In addition to his definitive work, The Palatine Families of Ireland, he has written a book that somewhat parallels the thinking of this article. This is Psychic Roots which is subtitled "Serendipity and Intuition in Genealogy." In this work, which is a collection of his experiences and those of other family researchers, he relates stories of genealogical and historic findings that have no rational explanation. One of these that come to mind is that of the story of Dr. David Faux. His experience is a perfect example of what I consider to be "Inherited Memory". Dr. Faux had done considerable research on his great great grandfather, who was a sergeant in the British Army in India. He had fantasied finding a picture of the Sergeant in uniform, with his family. Quite accidentally, while visiting Norman Castle in Norwich England, he found a painting of his great grandfather! It was a perfect match for that which he had fantasied!
The image of the painting was firmly implanted in David's great great grandfather's mind. Through the process of genetic programming, this image was passed down through the several generations to David. He was extremely fortunate to have the unique experience of discovering the source of his "inherited memory".
An Internet correspondent recently sent me this example of an unfortunate result of "Inherited Memory." He had attended short course given by Fionnula Flanagan and her psychiatrist husband, Garret O'Connor. The objective of their lectures was to help Irish Americans who have psychological problems stemming from Ireland's great potato famine. They were helping them "to remember what they never knew." Even though they had not personally experienced the famine, their inherited memory was such that in at least some Irish Americans, psychological problems resulted.
She was able to come up with such detailed descriptions of this former life in Ireland, that search for the existence of a historical Bridy Murphy was conducted. Unfortunately, no evidence of a historical Bridy Murphy has ever been found.
The movie actress, Shirley MacLaine is convinced that she has lived a prior life. Based on the fact that this revelation didn't serve to enrich her financially, [in fact it may have tended to have the opposite effect], I'm inclined to believe that she is sincere in relating her story.
General George S. Patton claimed to have lived 2,000 years ago in a prior life as a Carthaginian soldier. In the movie version of his life, he was depicted as being familiar with a particular battlefield of the Third Punic War, because he had fought there in the defense of Carthage, in his former life.As opposed to believing that General Patton was a reincarnation of a former life, I believe that he may well have had a complex inherited memory passed down to him from many preceding generations.
The poet, Daniel Gabriel Rossetti, [1828-1882], author of the poem, Sudden Light, describes his own experiences with "inherited memory". This of not only of the memories of places and things, but of a love, of which he had a recollection that was not gained by personal experience.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if somehow all of an adult's knowledge could be transferred over into their children. That information, added to that which we learned ourselves, would greatly reduce the efforts of the learning process and make us wise indeed. Perhaps with the help of the pioneering work of the University of Arizona, that day is not all that far away.
CONCLUSIONS. In this web page, I have attempted to show that studying your own genealogy is considerably more than an exercise to satisfy your curiosity about your ancestors. It is a vehicle by which we are able to extend the horizons our understanding of both the history and culture of those of our clan, who have gone before us.
But by far, the most tangible and valuable benefit that we gain, are the friends that we make and the relatives we meet while pursuing our ancestors. I can't overemphasize the joy that knowing these people has given me.
In this page, I have also attempted to verbalize my own innermost thoughts. This I will admit, at least in part, to provide a platform upon which I might better understand some of my own mind's workings. This I've presented in the framework of what I've labeled Inherited Memory. To me, it's altogether logical that if an insect can inherit memory, surely our comparatively enormous brains must be capable of storing proportionally greater amount of inherited memory. By applying this theory to our own unexplained thoughts and preferences, we have the necessary tool with which to understand them. When these are studied in the context of our knowledge of our ancestors, we can begin to understand ourselves in a totally new light.
My hope in writing this has been to suggest a new pathway that your thinking might take. This, to arrive at a better understanding of your heritage and yourself. I ask that you not accept the theory on its face value, but that you put it to your own test.
Finally, I'll leave you with a quote about plumbers and philosophers. John Gardener, a politician wrote, "The society that scorns excellence in plumbing because it is a humble activity, yet accepts shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity, will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy, and as a result, neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water." The last of the New Ross County Wexford Hartricks, was a plumber.
The graphics presented here are a collaboration of The Irish Palatine Association, of Rathkeale, County Limerick, Ireland and the author.
Last Modified November 3, 2000.
Census Records | Vital Records | Family Trees & Communities | Immigration Records | Military Records Directories & Member Lists | Family & Local Histories | Newspapers & Periodicals | Court, Land & Probate | Finding Aids