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Is there such a thing as ancestral memory?

Kim Cook looks at the possibility that we may inherit more from our ancestors than we realise!

Have you ever visited somewhere for the first time and felt a sense of déjà vu? Perhaps you turned a corner and found that the view was, oddly, just what you expected, even though you’d never been there before. Has someone in your family taken up a hobby or an occupation way outside what family and friends expected, and then proved amazingly good at it?

Many people in these circumstances have later discovered that the strangely familiar place, or the odd choice of hobby or career, is connected to a place or occupation that features in their family history.

At this point, many would use words like ‘spooky’ or ‘weird’ and, 40 years ago, my reaction would probably have been the same. Since then, however, I’ve come across so many cases of people relating to, and even repeating, the previously unknown experiences of their ancestors that I’ve been forced to consider the possibility of ‘ancestral memory’ - something that we inherit without realising it.

Keeping it in the family

One example in my own life showed up when I was about six or seven, but I didn’t realise its significance until some 20 years later.

At primary school, Friday afternoons were taken up with ‘painting’. It was never dignified with the word ‘art’ as we were never taught anything - it was just a way of keeping us quiet, until ‘home time’. One day, our teacher was joined by a student teacher who introduced us to the concept of design in picture books, book covers, and furnishings. When we settled down to paint, some continued with the standard subjects of people, houses, trees, flowers, or beach scenes, but I was one of those fascinated by the concept of design.

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About Family Tree

Get smarter at tracking down those births, marriages & deaths with our step-by-step guide to using the latest online indexes. Join in with part 1 of our surname supersleuth series and unlock the family history clues hidden in your family name. Learn how to use DNA Painter and piece together the story of your genes. Find out about family history software to make your research so much more organised: an introduction to the key programs. And don’t forget to check out the Family Tree Live programme of family history lectures & workshops this spring. Find your pull-out guide inside! Hurry – some are fully booked already! Find inspiration, information and great ideas to help you trace your roots today with Family Tree...