The overarching purpose of this project is to investigate whether there is any evidence for the transmission of ancestral paternal trauma to grandchildren. There is growing concern that health can be transmitted across generations, leading to the persistence of poor health and socioeconomic status within families. Maternal exposure to famines, infection, and psychological stress during pregnancy has been linked to poor health of children at birth and in adulthood, but studies of the inter-generational transmission of paternal health in human populations are few. The findings from this project will provide “proof of concept” for the transmission of paternal trauma in a human population and determine whether further studies are needed in a larger population, whether additional information should be collected to elucidate the mechanisms of any potential transmission, whether future generations should be followed, and, if so, which descendants should be followed.
This project will study the transmission of paternal ex-POW status to children of Union Army veterans of the US Civil War (1861-5). It will build on a subsample of a previously NIA funded database that has collected the records of more than 53,000 children of 1,999 Union Army ex-POW and 8,500 non-POW veterans (“Early Indicators, Intergenerational Processes, and Aging,” NIA grant P01AG10120, PI: Costa). Data limitations preclude similar studies in more recent populations.
The project will investigate whether ancestral paternal ex-POW trauma is transmitted to the grandchildren of veterans to affect their longevity and whether this transmission is sex-specific. Identification will come from a comparison of grandchildren of ex-POWs when camp conditions were at their worst, ex-POWs when camp conditions were better, and non-POWs. The analysis will require obtaining death information for the granddaughters and grandsons of Union Army veterans, with an over-sample of grandchildren of ex-POWs. The analytical sample will consist of the records of more than 23,000 granddaughters and grandsons who survived to age 45 and who were born after the war to 2,847 veterans.
Studying the effects of ancestral exposures will increase our understanding of the health and well-being of descendants and can inform health interventions.