Medical Genealogy

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Pink Edition LidGenealogy expert Thomas MacEntee of GeneaBloggers discusses the importance of knowing your family’s medical genealogy during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

What Do You Know About Your Family’s Medical History?

One of the aspects of doing genealogy is that as researchers we are privy to a wide variety of information. This includes information on the health and wellness of our ancestors gathered through a variety of records including death certificates, family stories, obituaries and even draft registration cards.

When you discover that one of your ancestors or a relative was diagnosed with a certain disease or condition, does it make you pause and think about whether or not “it runs in the family?” Most of us do and this not only keeps us in that “curiosity” mode as researchers, but it could also save lives.

Is It Better to Know or Not Know?

Some of the information you find may include a story about a person in your family tree and how they suffered from a medical condition. You may also be able to see a hereditary condition as you progress with your research. And many of us will also find stories of how our ancestors overcame a disease or ailment and were listed in the “survivor” column.

My own family has been relatively lucky in the medical history area, except for a recent generational diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, with one type appearing to be hereditary. Whether it is Alzheimer’s, Crohn’s disease or breast cancer, the key to surviving is knowing more about the disease and getting an early diagnosis. The more you know, and the more you know about your family’s track record with certain diseases, the better you will be able to make an informed decision about detection methods and possible treatments.

Take Action During Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Besides being National Family History Month, October is also National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This is a time when we’re encouraged to not only get screened for breast cancer, but also talk about how breast cancer may have affected our families.

Here are ways that you can not only help your own family discuss its medical history, but also support the National Breast Cancer Foundation and its work:

  • Review your family’s medical history in your own genealogy research. Look for patterns, common illnesses and diseases through various records.
  • You may actually save someone’s life just by discussing your own family’s medical history!
  • Make sure you include notes about specific diseases and afflictions in your genealogy database software. Then use the searching and reporting functions to find all those ancestors and relatives with a common illness.
  • Share your findings with your family members in person or via social media (remember to keep an eye on your privacy settings on social media when discussing health issues about living relatives!).
  • Start conversations with family members and friends about your family medical history. Get people to think about their own health issues and if a family pattern emerges, urge them to consider a visit to their doctor or neighborhood clinic.

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