There is a nostalgic trend for people to trace their family trees by going back several generations or as far as they are able. If there is not a lot of actual evidence in the family archives, many will use such web sites as myheritage.com to help them on their way. However, there is another important aspect to tracing your family history that you might not have thought of.
That is your family's medical history
This could hold vital information about your own health and that of your children.
Many common conditions are passed down through families but there may also be less well known conditions that are genetic in nature that would be helpful to know about. The more common ones include heart disease, cancer, diabetes, mental illness, osteoporosis, birth defects and even memory loss.
Your first port of call when putting together such information is to chat to your parents and your grandparents as well as any uncles and aunts and get them to rack their brains for what they can recollect. Write it all down. It will form the basis of your family's medical history. Once you have exhausted that source, then there other ways and means to find out more.
It is very important when collecting your family medical history to obtain accurate, complete records. A three generation set of records and information is the ideal goal to aim for. It is rather a tall order but you should set out information in the following format for each family member:
- First and last names (including all married and maiden names for women where appropriate).
- The current age, or age at death.
- Exactly how people are related to each other, noting if any brothers and sisters have different parents or if anyone was adopted.
- In the case of twins, you need to know if they are or were identical or fraternal.
- Note if any family member married a blood relative eg. first cousins.
- The country your ancestors came from eg. Jewish ancestors could be Ashkenazi Jews (from eastern Europe) or Sephardic Jews (from Spain or certain middle eastern countries). This information can be important because of the prevalence of some genetic conditions in certain ethnic groups.
- Note the cause of death and if an autopsy was performed plus any history of miscarriages or babies who are deceased.
- Include any illnesses, birth defects, or mental retardation in family members. A bonus would be the names of hospitals or medical centers where treatment took place plus the age at which illnesses occurred or any surgery was performed and why.
- Also include any particular lifestyle habits that might be relevant such as a history of tobacco use, alcohol or drug use, obesity or an occupation that might be hazardous.
Aim to be as accurate as you can when compiling a family medical history as this can be a valuable tool for both your family members and your healthcare providers.
Do your own research about a family condition
Forewarned is forearmed. If you do your own research about a family condition and know what you might be up against, in many instances you can adjust your diet and more as a preventative measure.
You can add to your family medical history by applying for medical records and/or death certificates for different members. Death certificates are particularly useful as they usually contain all the relevant information about cause, place and age and may even give the name of the hospital that treated the deceased. Death certificates may or may not include information about other medical conditions that did not contribute to the cause of death. They can be obtained from the records office in the state where the family member died. A small fee is usually charged for a copy of a death certificate.
In the case of your own medical records, you can apply for these from the appropriate facility but if you wish to apply for a family member's records, then you will need their permission or in the case of a deceased person, their next-of-kin's permission.
Compiling such a family medical tree is quite an undertaking but you might find it a very worthwhile and interesting exercise with valuable benefits for both you and your family.