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Trace your family health history

Sept. 28, 2009 at 4:28 a.m.
Updated Oct. 3, 2009 at 5:03 a.m.


With the current interest in inherited diseases, take time to collect your family health history. It can help your physician identify diseases and conditions you may have inherited.

Dr. Ranit Mishori, in a recent article, suggested the following steps:

Make a list of relatives to interview. Begin with your parents, siblings, half-siblings and your children. Next include grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, great uncles and great aunts. If your relatives are deceased, find the causes of death and their ages at the time of death. This information is available on death certificates recorded in the state vital records department dating back to 1903. You will need the name, approximate date of death and place of death.

Contact your relatives and explain what you are doing. They may be able to help by providing you with other family members' health histories.

Prepare your questions in advance. Create a form with blanks that can be completed easily in an interview or through correspondence. Include questions on heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, cancer, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, learning or developmental diseases, and at what age the disease was developed.

If a family member does not want to share information with you, respect his or her feelings. There are other ways to locate this information.

If you visited a physician's office within the last year or so, you most likely filled out a medical questionnaire regarding your family's medical history. This information gives your physician a very good tool to use when he or she observes you and diagnoses your test results.

Mishori wrote if your mother had diabetes, your father suffered from heart disease, an aunt was deeply depressed, or a brother had cancer, you and your physician both need to know this information. Your medical history is also your genetic history and can be a very useful for you and your descendants in achieving good health.

Get Started Now. Thanksgiving Day is not far away and a great opportunity to interview family members about their health. Try to gain information about as many generations as possible and include parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, siblings and children. Half-brothers and half-sisters are also important because they too share some of your DNA. You can create your own charts or download genetic pedigree charts from https://familyhistory.hhs.gov/fhh-web/home.action or http://www.saburchill.com /IBbiology/chapters03/006.html.

Your chart will look similar to this diagram with squares representing males and circles representing females.

The darkened symbol represents the compiler of the genetic history. If the person is deceased, note the age and cause of death beside the symbol. If the person is still living but suffers from some inherited disease, also note that important information.

Your design will resemble a combined family pedigree chart and family group sheet but can offer valuable information to your physician or genetic counselor. Try to get specific information about your relatives: What kind of cancer? At what age was it diagnosed? Did the relative die? At what age? He adds that no medical fact is unimportant. Even seemingly benign problems, like allergies, run in families and can influence your chances of getting asthma, some skin conditions or more serious allergies.

If one generation of a family has high blood pressure, it is not unusual for the next generation to have similarly high blood pressure.

Ask about family members who died in infancy, about miscarriages and stillbirths. Inquire about birth defects. Dig deeply. At the same time, respect a relative's need for privacy and use some tact. It is worth taking the time to learn more about your relatives' health.

Reminder: On Oct. 12, registration begins for the $95 Beginning Genealogy Continuing Education Course at the Victoria College Jan. 6-Feb. 6. Phone 361-582-2432 to register.

Happy Researching.

Send e-mail genealogy queries to mjones@vicad.com . VCGS members will research queries requiring extensive study.

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