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Thanksgiving is Family Health History Day

   I’m interrupting the software blogs for this very important announcement.  Just in case you don't already know, the Surgeon General of the United States (currently Acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak, MD, MPH) has declared Thanksgiving Day to be Family Health History Day.  This began back in 2004, and I have written about it each year since I started my blog.   As a genealogist, you probably have a great deal of information on your family's health stored away in your database.   Each time you collect a death certificate you likely have the cause of death indicated.  Other sources are obituaries, sometimes church records or newspaper articles, pension files and mortality censuses.  For more recent information, the best source is likely your family and as you all gather for Thanksgiving, it’s an opportunity for you to share what you know, as well as ask relatives for information on health concerns.  

Karen 1

   My niece, Karen, died at four years old of cystic fibrosis.  That meant that both my sister and brother-in-law were carriers for the disease, since it is caused by a recessive gene, and will only manifest itself when both parents pass that gene on to their child.  Did I too carry the gene?  At the time my children were born, there was no test for a carrier.  My pediatrician agreed to test my girls for cystic fibrosis after they were born, and they were all fine.  In the 1990s when a carrier test was developed, I was tested, as was my younger sister.  I do carry the gene but my younger sister does not.  I then tested my three daughters…the oldest and youngest carry the gene and the middle one does not.  With CF and other recessive diseases there is a one in four chance of passing on the disease if both parents are carriers and a 50% change of passing on the gene if only one parent is a carrier.  

   You may not be aware of a genetic disease like cystic fibrosis in your family, but what do you see in the records you’ve collected?  My husband’s family has a strong history of heart disease and he had both a paternal and maternal aunt with early onset breast cancer.  My family doesn’t have breast cancer, but I can trace stomach cancer back on both sides four generations.   Sharing that information with my doctors allowed them to order tests that identified a problem before it advanced.   As each of my daughters have gone out on their own, they have had a medical pedigree to share with their doctors as well. 

   So this Thanksgiving share the information  you have collected with your family and ask them to share what they know about family health problems as well.  It may well save a life!

   Happy Hunting!

For more information about creating a medical pedigree see Dr. Thomas H. Shawker’s book, Unlocking Your Genetic History available here (under Methodology).   You can also see additional resources here.   

© Donna M. Moughty 2007- 2018