Hereditary Memory: Can a Child Remember What the Parent Has Forgotten?

Like a virus, such a software bug can lay dormant and do no harm for years, until it is suddenly switched on and gives them panic attacks, even in a non-threatening situation.

Like all such computer malware, this virus develops slowly over a long period and the overt signs may emerge only after several years. It has been observed repeatedly not only in the survivors themselves, but also in their children and even in their grandchildren 70 years after the end of the war.

When it has taken root, it will linger and stay active for a lifetime, leading to pathological stress, panic attacks and even to complex PTSD. If no help is received, the ripple effects may produce chaos in the delicate hormonal balance of the entire body and cause it to crash.

Even though the computer was reformatted (or reprogrammed) at conception, some traces of the old program remains. At fertilization, the germ cells were supposed to have been wiped clean of any chemical modifications to DNA. No memories were supposed to slip through the generation barrier.

Research from the last decade, however, has found evidence for what clinicians have long observed, but were unable to verify. Some DNA methylation can escape the ‘reset’ mechanism or ‘reprogramming’ in human germ cells and this explains how some memories can reappear in offspring.

As a result of such epigenetic TTT, there might indeed be something wrong with the offspring of trauma survivors in a biological sense. From what I have seen working with children of trauma survivors, I think it’s possible.

The assumption is also backed by a lot of research, even though most of it was done on animals. In fact, there has been an explosion of studies on epigenetics during the last decade. Advances in molecular biology and cognitive neuroscience have just started to uncover the biological mysteries and cellular basis of hereditary memory.

Perhaps these studies will soon be able to explain how memory is carried on ‘in the blood’ from generation to generation?

Rose and fence photo available from Shutterstock

Hereditary Memory: Can a Child Remember What the Parent Has Forgotten?

Natan P.F. Kellermann, Ph.D

Natan Kellermann is a clinical psychologist working with Holocaust survivors and their families in Israel. He wrote the book “Holocaust Trauma” in 2009. More information can be found on his homepage:


APA Reference
Kellermann, N. (2015). Hereditary Memory: Can a Child Remember What the Parent Has Forgotten?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 3, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 Nov 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 17 Nov 2015
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