Thanksgiving is a holiday that many people celebrate by getting together with family. It can, sometimes, involve meeting with relatives that you don’t get to see very often. It seems very natural that National Family History Day falls on the same day as Thanksgiving.
Have you heard of National Family History Day? The U.S. Surgeon General first declared Thanksgiving to be National Family History Day since 2004. Many genealogists see Thanksgiving as an opportunity to record family history. The U.S. Surgeon General points out that it is also a good time to record your family health history.
Genealogy and genetics are two subjects that have started to become interconnected. As such, many genealogists are aware that some traits can be passed down from parents to their children. This can include things like hair color and eye color.
The ability for scientists to test a person’s DNA, and explain the results, has revealed a lot about health. There are certain genes that increase the risk that a person will develop a certain type of disease. Those who are aware of a family history of those disease (or those genes) can make lifestyle decisions based on that knowledge. They can choose to eat better, to stop smoking, or to see a doctor in order to be tested for certain diseases or conditions.
This year, when you visit with your family members on Thanksgiving, take the time to put together your medical family tree. Doing so provides helpful health information not only for yourself, but also for your children. The information you collect can be a starting point for other relatives to delve into their own medical family history.
Creating a medical family tree is different from creating a typical family tree. Many family trees include people who are genetically related to each other, their spouses, adopted children, spouses from second marriages, and aunts or uncles who were “married into” the family.
A medical family tree should only include “blood relatives”. In other words, leave out the people who you are not genetically related to. Focus on your parents, grandparents, siblings, and the aunts or uncles who are genetically related to you. The family members who are not “blood relatives” cannot possibly have passed down their genes to you.
What kind of information should you gather? Ask your relatives about disease that they feel “run in the family”. Make a note of which family members had those diseases or conditions. Find out if any of your relatives had a disease that developed at an earlier age than one would typically expect. Are their disease or conditions that “run in your family” that affect just one gender? (Prostate cancer or breast cancer would be a few examples.)
Image by Satya Murthy on Flickr.
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