Does DNA have memory?

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Does DNA have memory? Something deep inside of us that draws us to our ancestors and the places they lived? Or is it pure imagination, a desire to connect. Not just to them, but to their talents, dreams, experiences that somehow seem to replay through the generations.

Angela and Mike in Oban, a seaside village in Scotland.
Angela and Mike in Oban, a seaside village in Scotland.

I’ve had a dream to visit Scotland for most of my life. I can’t really tell you the day that happened. That dream has been with me as long as I can remember. Family stories, heritage, and possibly the romanticism in books and movies. But my husband and I finally took a 2-week trip, specifically dated to see my daughter graduate from the University of Glasgow with her masters degree. The trip was truly amazing.

Now let’s get back to the DNA memory question with some ironic situations discovered just before and during that trip. I’m descended from quite a few different Scottish ancestral lines. I only knew of one that came out of Glasgow, my second great grandmother. Her name was Margery Anderson, born in 1851. Just prior to going over, I learned the approximate location of where she was born. Oddly, my daughter and her husband lived within walking distance of that place. Sadly, Allan’s Land (a tenement built by Mr. Allan who owned the Springbank Foundry) has since been torn down for more modern city buildings. I was excited to learn my 3X great grandfather, Joseph B. Anderson, was a cotter for the Springbank Foundry. A cotter meant he carted things either in a cart or carried by hand as a job. Knowing that gave me a sense of life for my ancestors.

My daughter with her diploma from the University of Glasgow!
My daughter with her diploma from the University of Glasgow!

Margery was born in May of 1851. By Oct. 4, 1851, she was a new immigrant at 5 months old to America. Tracing back, it appears my ancestors before her were Scots who had been part of the Ulster plantings when England moved Scots into the Ulster area of Ireland. How ironic they returned to Scotland before coming to America. How ironic that my daughter returned to the very area that they had. The call to Scotland might have come for school, but to be right in the neighborhood of her ancestors is almost eery to me. And then there was more…

We're descendants of the 1st and 2nd Lords Cathcart. Here's the wall memorial at Paisley Abbey.
We’re descendants of the 1st and 2nd Lords Cathcart. Here’s the wall memorial at Paisley Abbey.

Turns out my Cathcart ancestors were a very short drive away in Paisley. Others turned up about a 90 minute drive away in Galloway. I felt very connected. As I learned more, I felt more connected. Now I’m planning a couple of series based on what I’ve learned because I want to go deeper yet into my ancestral past. That question haunts me, tickles my curiosity, beats in my blood…are we called to places because of DNA memory? Is there something to it? Or am I simply someone with a very creative imagination. Still—we knew almost none of this before my daughter chose that particular school, that particular apartment, in that particular neighborhood. Doesn’t it make you curious if something bigger was at work?

Published by Angela Breidenbach

Angela Breidenbach is an author, genealogist, screenwriter, speaker, and radio personality.


  • Eryca Caldwell

    February 6, 2019 at 8:30 PM

    I’ve often wondered that as well. I’ve always had a dream to go to Germany. Hamburg is truly where my heart has always wanted to go and still does. At some point I know I will make it there. On my father’s side of the Family they are mostly from Germany. A few years back I discovered when my daughter was in 5-6th grade that my family is mostly from that area within a 20-50 mile area. Just do south.
    My mother’s side of the family not much is known. So recently finding info on her side has been great.
    I do think our DNA plays a bigger part than what scientists realize. Also I feel God puts a calling on our hearts as well.
    I don’t know how to put it all in words, but I think our heritage plays a big part of us. Known, or unknown.

    • Angela Breidenbach

      February 6, 2019 at 9:23 PM

      I think you’re right, Eryca. I think science has not yet fully discovered the mysteries of our DNA. I married into a German family. It’s fascinating how different we all are and yet how alike 🙂

  • Debra Marvin

    February 6, 2019 at 8:47 PM

    Animals seem to have this. They know how to get to a place they’ve never been before.
    And I felt the same way in Scotland and now I miss it everyday.

    • Angela Breidenbach

      February 6, 2019 at 9:25 PM

      Me too, I miss Scotland. I think you hit on something about the Creator’s fingerprint in the DNA of His creation. I can see how His fingerprint might be in how DNA calls to us.