Genetic memory or hardwired preferences: Questions for the family historian

Egg Rock Lighthouse

Egg Rock Lighthouse, at entry to Frenchman’s Bay

Genetic memory is explained as follows in Wikipedia:

In psychology, genetic memory is a memory present at birth that exists in the absence of sensory experience, and is incorporated into the genome over long spans of time. It is based on the idea that common experiences of a species become incorporated into its genetic code, not by a Lamarckian process that encodes specific memories but by a much vaguer tendency to encode a readiness to respond in certain ways to certain stimuli.

As a child, I longed for New England.  Not that I had any logical reason to be drawn to the area.  A native Southern Californian, I’d never experienced the east coast until my mother and I visited Maine in 2004.   When we arrived in Bar Harbor, Mom and I looked at each other and simultaneously and exclaimed, “We’re HOME!”

Eight years later, there’s nary a day that I don’t think about Bar Harbor.  The Bar Harbor weather forecast is saved on my iGoogle home page.  Geddy’s web cam, overlooking the Town Pier, is bookmarked on my desktop for daily viewing. Unfortunately, I’ve only managed to visit Bar Harbor in person twice since that initial trip, but it’s never far from my thoughts.  It even dictates my genealogical endeavors – most of my research has centered on ancestors with roots in Bar Harbor, to the exclusion of others.

So the question remains – why this fixation on a town I’ve only visited three times?  Why did my Mom and I both have the same reaction when we arrived?

My theory:  a preference for places can be hardwired into our genetic makeup.  Just as Golden Retrievers have an affinity for water and retrieving, and a Border Collie is drawn to herding sheep and other moving objects, the same types of preferences is hardwired into our own beings and passed on through our ancestors before us.  My own forebears were colonial New Englanders, residing in Gloucester, Massachusetts since the mid-17th century.  About 1760, my sixth great grandfather, Job Stanwood and his wife, Martha Bradstreet, removed to Mount Desert Island with Job’s cousin, Abraham Somes.  They were among the very first families on the Island, and descendants of Job and Martha still reside on beautiful MDI.  Someday, I hope to as well.

In the meantime, I surround myself with historical and antique books covering the history of Bar Harbor, wear Maine t-shirts, and drink my tea from mugs adorned with pictures of New England scenery.  I might just be a bit obsessed, but I prefer to think the DNA Job and Martha passed down to me has provided me with a love an Island that they called home.


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