• William B. Taylor

DNA & Deja Vu - Are The Two Connected?

Using and understanding DNA has become a large part of both my ancestry research as well as a key theme in my "Bloodlines" novels. DNA has helped me prove beyond a doubt my connection to several relatives and has helped me find relatives I previously did not know existed.

DNA, or Deoxyribonucleic acid, is a molecule that carries the genetic instructions to allow every living organism to grow, develop, function and reproduce. In many ways DNA is like a computer code, or a recipe with instructions on how to make "us" unique. This coding is passed from one generation to the next with some similarities, but also many unique qualities as well.

Deja vu is a sense of familiarity with an event or surroundings with which you are not familiar. Deja vu can best be described as a feeling that you have been somewhere that you have never been before, or are reliving a moment which you know has never happened.

Is it possible that Deja vu is really a result of a stored memory contained in your DNA, but the memory is not yours, but one of a stored memory of your ancestors? Scientists have already proven that DNA has the ability to store text and audio files that have been converted into code, and then recover the data with 100% accuracy (see paper published in 'Nature', January 2013).

I started considering this possibility after my first real trip to London, England. I had been to London before, only briefly for a night or two, but I had not had a real chance to explore the city. On this trip, I found myself "knowing" the city; it felt oddly familiar and I "knew" where places were located without the assistance of a map. These were not major tourist attractions either, they were obscure parks, short-cuts that I "knew" would take us to our destination faster, and secret little spots where historic events had occurred.

I found one part of London - Westminster - to be as familiar and comfortable to me as my own neighborhood back in Canada. I was able to navigate all of Westminster, including tiny alley ways, without any need for a map or directions; I somehow just knew where everything was.

On our second trip to London, my friend and I chose a small boutique hotel in which to stay. The hotel is in close proximity to some of the touristy areas of London, but really more out of the way. We had seen the hotel on a previous trip and decided to try it on our next trip. From the minute we checked into the hotel, it felt comfortable and familiar.

After I returned to Canada from the second trip to London, I continued working on my family history. I then discovered that my maternal Great Grandmother and her family, as well as many of my paternal relatives, had all lived very near the hotel we had stayed at. Some lived within a block of the hotel, and even more coincidental, I discovered that another relative had co-founded an exclusive club located directly across the street from the hotel.

The most recent relative to have lived there was my Great Grandmother (who died when I was 7), and that was still 100 years prior to my visit. My other relatives who had lived within a stone's throw of the hotel had all died well before the end of the 19th century. Prior to my research (after my return to Canada), I had no idea where my relatives had lived in London, or that some of them even did live there.

The city of London has almost 9 million inhabitants and covers 611 square miles. The odds of my choosing a hotel that was within a 10 minute walk from several of ancestor's homes is, well, staggering. I don't think that my choice of where to stay in London was merely a coincidence, especially when combined with my uncanny familiarity with that part of the city.

I have had similar deja-vu experiences while traveling through New England, especially while in Connecticut. Until recently I had no prior knowledge that a large number of my paternal ancestors helped settle New England, dating back to the early 1600's.

Is it possible that our DNA contains the stored memories and information of places and events that our ancestors once knew and experienced? If our DNA contains physical and often psychological details passed down from our ancestors, then why not memories?

Maybe one day science will have an answer for us. In the meantime I find the hypothesis intriguing, and I think there just may be a story or two waiting to be written about this topic!


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