The question of heritage in Middle-Earth is an interesting one, because of the combination of factors that make up the heritage of any person, family or race. These factors include learned behaviours, inherited gifts, skills or traits, and in some cases, a combination where both learned behaviours and inherited factors play a part. Some inherited aspects would include the Númenorean life-span, hobbit silence and ability with aimed weapons. An example of learned behaviours would be most hobbits fear of boats and rivers. These are just a few of the many examples of heritage displayed in the books written by Bilbo and Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee.
First we have the inherited gifts or traits, such as that of the Dalemen for understanding the language of thrushes, as Bilbo recorded in his memoirs. These include the extended life-span of the Númenoreans, particularly the Númenorean royalty, the above-mentioned Dalemen, and the healing abilities of the Kings of Gondor among others. This is also the largest category.
"The hands of the king are the hands of a healer. And so the rightful king could ever be known"(LOTR.897). These words said by Ioreth strongly suggest that this is an inherited gift, though with a skill such as this there would be a large learned component as well. The question is then, is this gift held by all in the royal family, or only by one? The statement: "And so the rightful king could ever be known"(LOTR.897) suggests that only one, that one best suited to be the King ever had the healing ability. On the other hand, Aragorn said, "would that Elrond were here, for he is the eldest of all our race, and has the greater power"(LOTR.897), which suggests that perhaps it is something that the entire family had. It is interesting that the Aragorn referred to his family line and lineage as a 'race', which seems to imply a series of inherited characteristics. Other questions raised by Ioreth's words include, 'did this tradition originate in Númenor?' and 'was there a similar tradition in Arnor as well?'.
It is possible that the Kings of Gondor had an ability to unlock certain attributes of some plants such as Athelas, which goes with the idea of the King being a healer. Aragorn was able to do so much with that one plant, yet in Gondor it was considered next to useless by the healers and lore-masters. He used it to aid the healing of bruises, with the wound from the Morgul Knife and in several cases of the Black Shadow, as the influence of the Nazgûl was known in Gondor. Both the rhyme quoted by the herb-master, and the name of the plant in the common tongue, kingsfoil, suggest a special affinity to the King. According to the rhyme, only in the hands of the King could Athelas be an effective cure for the Black Shadow. Given that the herb Athelas was brought from Númenor, we have no idea when the poem originated as it could have been brought by survivors fleeing the destruction of the island. However, for a long period of time after the War of the Last Alliance, the Nazgûl were not seen in Mordor, nor as far as we know, anywhere in western Middle-Earth. It is possible that the poem was composed between then and the reign of Eärnur, when the Witch-King first showed up again, as a reminder of what the King could do.
There are some implications made that one of the reasons that Aragorn and his family line were such effective healers was due to his distant descent from Lúthien Tinúviel, the daughter of Melian the maia.
Something about Elvish blood among the Edain leaves some sort of identifiable inherited traits, although they are not specifically described. This is clearly stated in at Legolas's first meeting with Prince Imrahil: "for he saw that here indeed was one who had elven-blood in his veins"(LOTR.906). This elven blood is not from the line of the Númenorean Kings, instead it is from one of the Númenoreans marrying one of the Sindar traveling to the havens at the Bay of Belfalas. However, it is recognizable to Elvish eyes some two thousand or so years after Mithrellas married Imrazôr beginning the line of the Lords of Dol Amroth from whom Imrahil was descended.
The extended life-span of the Númenoreans, another inherited trait specific to a certain group, was given as a reward to the three Houses for their loyalty and their deeds in the wars of the First Age of the Sun, as stated in The Silmarillion: "...and they were given wisdom and power and life more enduring than any others of mortal race have possessed"(S.312). There are some suggestions that the extended life-span came not only as a gift, but from the "assimilation of their mode of life to that of the Eldar"(UT.225). It has been noted several times that the royal family, those descended from Elros Tar-Minyatur had an even longer life-span than that of the average Númenorean. This was probably due to the strain of Elvish blood in that family line. By how much though the life-spans were different, is not known any more, although it is said that they were given a life three times longer than that of ordinary men, at least at the beginning, suggesting that that was true for the entire population. However, we do know, thanks to the preservation of the document titled "The Line of Elros: Kings of Númenor" that the life-span of the Kings and Queens was around four hundred years. However, as recorded in the "Tale of Aldarion and Erendis", it was a significant amount. This is made clear with the statement: "The kin of Erendis have not the length of life that is granted to the descendents of Elros..."(UT.178-179) Erendis was descended from the House of Bëor.
The Men of Dale had been able to understand the language of a specific type of thrush, as Bilbo recorded in his memoirs. The evidence is that this was an inherited gift and not a learned one, because of what Bard discovered during the fight with the Dragon at Lake Town: "...he found that he could understand its tongue, because he was of the race of Dale"(H.236). The thrush that had overheard Bilbo talking clearly understood the Common Tongue because it was able to repeat the information to Bard. It is also said that the thrush was of a magical species, though no more information than that was given.
There is an implication in the writings of Frodo and Sam that gifts similar to that of the Dalemen might be more common than was thought. Twice, Aragorn suggests that it is possible to understand birds: first when they neared Weathertop, when he said, "not all birds are to be trusted, and there are other spies more evil than they are"(LOTR.200). The second time was demonstrated through their actions, when the Company hid from the Crebain. But, then, the question is whether those that understood the birds did so from an inherited gift, such as that of the Dalemen, or by learning the language of the birds in question.
An example of heritage where something is both learned and inherited would be hobbits of Fallohide descent, particularly the Took family. The Fallohides were noticeably more adventurous than either the Stoors or the Harfoots and most of the leading families of the Shire, including the Tooks and the Brandybucks, had a strong Fallohide strain in their background. Among the Tooks it was occasionally known for a hobbit to go on adventures, though most never returned. Although this was strongly looked down on in other families, it was more accepted among the Tooks and the Brandybucks, though moreso among the Tooks. Up to the time of the War of the Ring, "an occasional Brandybuck or adventurous Took would come out to the Inn for a night or two"(LOTR.166). However, adventures were more clearly a thing of the Tooks. This explains the learned behaviour as part of this aspect of heritage, while an example of being born with the trait would be Bilbo, where he says that "then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go see the great mountains..."(H.25)
Another example of an ability that resulted from a combination of learned and inherited traits, would be hobbits amazing skills with stealth: "...their elusiveness is due solely to a professional skill that heredity and practise have rendered inimitable..."(LOTR.13). In this case, it would be a gift that is honed through practise.
Probably similar to hobbit stealth would be their skills with thrown weapons. Generally all hobbits had very good aim, as Bilbo demonstrated with the spiders in Mirkwood. Sam gave another example of this skill in Bree to silence Bill Ferny. Recorded in hobbit history was that they sent a company of archers, which seems to have been a stronger skill than swords or hand to hand, given their size, into the war against Angmar. Again, this ability is likely to have been partially hereditary and improved through long practise.
The best example of learned behaviour forming a part of the heritage of any group is that of hobbits and boats. "Most Hobbits regarded even rivers and small boats with deep misgivings and not many of them could swim"(LOTR.19). This is clearly a learned behaviour and not an inherited one because of the word "most" at the beginning of the sentence. The Bucklanders, in particular the Brandybuck family, had a tendency to enjoy boats, and sometimes even learn to swim. Some knowledge would likely have been required, if only to handle the Bucklebury Ferry. There is no evidence of a ferryhobbit to handle the crossing and no matter how calm, some skill would have been needed to counter the current of the river. Records remain of only two crossing points for the Brandywine in the Shire. The second was the Brandywine Bridge, which was twenty miles away from Bucklebury Ferry, so the ferry would probably had plenty of use. Even some of those who married Brandybucks would sometimes go boating, as did Drogo Baggins. As told by Gaffer Gamgee, Drogo had been boating, which seemed to be fairly shocking to the old hobbit telling the tale, on the Brandywine River when he drowned. To the vast majority of the hobbits in the Shire, boats were viewed with suspicion: "they fool about with boats on that big river - and that isn't natural"(LOTR.34). Drogo's fate was probably used as a reminder for young hobbits of why they should avoid rivers.
It is said that early in their history, hobbits of the Stoor branch remained on the banks of the Anduin River the longest. Add to this the fact that the hobbits of the Marish were known by certain physical characteristics to have a strong element of Stoor blood in their families, it is possible that river and boat lore passed down through their families and through contact spread to the Brandybucks. After all, the Marish was the region on the western banks of the Brandywine River, while Buckland was on the east side. Contact would have been common and easy. Look at Frodo thieving mushrooms from Farmer Maggot for example. Frodo lived on the other side of the River from Maggot's farm, and yet he seemed to have been over there often enough to make a name for himself before he was even in his tweens.
There are hints of other gifts in which heritage might play a part, but there is not enough surviving information to come to a conclusion either way. Not only gifts, but there is a suggestion that there was an inherited aspect to the use of the Palantíri, making it easier for certain people, such as Aragorn, to do so. However, there simply is not enough information left to really answer the questions raised.
Books used or quoted in this document:
Lord of the Rings