Inherited Memories

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Inherited Memories  (1886) 
From Popular Science Monthly Volume 29, October 1886 Popular Miscellany


Inherited Memories.—Dr. H. D. Yalin has communicated to "Mind in Nature" (Chicago) some instances in which specific memories appear to have been transmitted by inheritance. He believes that they are the first cases that have been published, for even Ribot confesses to have had but little success in establishing instances of the kind.

The most striking case is that of a little girl fifteen months old, the child of a French Canadian father, whose principal traits of character and appearance she seems to have received, and of an American mother of German descent. She has had only the English and German languages spoken to her; yet the first word she ever spoke—when five months old was—mouman, the French Canadian form of maman, mother. Her first words of assent and dissent were oui and non—French—when eight months of age, "and she does not yet know yes or ya, though she seems to have forgotten oui. When a year old she was presented with a poodle-dog named Venus, which she called Nanan—candy, "one of the very first words that a French child talks." At about the same age she used freely the words bon, good, and pus, French Canadian for plus, no more. These six French words are the very ones that her father is likely to have exclusively used when a babe. The u of the last word was sounded as in French, as also were the nasal sounds of non and Nanan, things which her mother could not have done. Inheritance of memory has been observed in the case of birds, which soon learn to avoid the telegraph-wires, while their young seem equally ready in keeping away from them. Chauncey Wright is quoted as saying of those dreams of strange places and events that often recur to one in his sleep, with the intimation of being familiar though never seen in a wakeful state, that they are inherited memories. Dr. Valin also relates of his own personal experience: "My mother was brought up and educated in a most romantic country village, which she revisited a few months before I was born. The first time I visited it I remembered vividly having been there before. In fact, I could tell at that time what next would follow in the scenery, and I argued with my relatives who were denying my former knowledge of that place; my mother having died when I was about nine months old, and I had not had any description of it from any one, or conversed with any one in regard to the village scenery." A little girl in Burlington, Vermont, with whose family Dr. Valin at one time resided, "had inherited so good a memory of an uncle, whose funeral had been attended by her mother not long before this little girl's birth, that she could give a full description of him, and knew his picture at once the first time that she ever saw it." Some of these cases may have been maternal impressions, but the first one was undoubtedly one of inherited memory.