Each year since 2004, the Surgeon General has declared Thanksgiving Day as Family Health History Day. Why is this important? For years, health professionals have known that many common health problems such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers run in families. The more you know about your family health history, the more you can do to reduce your risk of serious illness. As genealogists and family historians we routinely collect information about our ancestors and the causes of their deaths. Putting the information together in a documented health history can not only assist your physician, but may save your life. Passing this information to your children or other family members may also provide them with life saving information.
When I first moved to Florida, I had to find new doctors, and at the same time, my children were moving out on their own and also needed a primary care physician. I would get calls from them with questions about the cause of death for their grandparents, so I decided to put together a medical pedigree for the family.
One thing you'll notice is that a medical pedigree typically has no names. The arrow points to the source individual for the pedigree. It uses standard symbols to represent male and female ancestors and contains notes about any medical conditions known for that individual and their age at onset. If there is a slash through the symbol, that person is deceased and the information includes their age at death and cause of death.
An easy way to create your medical pedigree is to use the application available on the Surgeon General's site. This site does not keep a copy of your information. You can take advantage of the software, but the data is stored on your computer.
So when you gather with your family this Thanksgiving, start a conversation. You can use the Family Health Portrait to add information you know from your research and share that with other family members, as well as getting their input. If you are interested in finding out more about the area of health history, Dr. Thomas Shawker's book, Unlocking Your Genetic History is a great resource. You can find a link to this book in my store under Methodology and Sources.