Thursday, November 18, 2010

Medical Genealogy

When Genealogists and Geneticists Meet! 
Staying abreast of the trends in genealogy can be daunting, but is definitely necessary for the serious family historian or professional genealogist.  I attended a wonderful informative seminar Red Flags in Your Medical Family History,” hosted at the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, MO.  The presenters, Debra Collins, MS, CGC and Julie Broski were from the University of Kansas Medical Center, in Kansas City. 

Although I have a rudimentary understanding of the topic, I walked away with a few vital pointers.

Why Now?
The Surgeon General, in cooperation with other agencies, has launched the Surgeon General's Family History Initiative to encourage all American families to learn more about their family health history.  Thanksgiving has been declared National Family History Day, allowing for updates and information to be shared at an annual family gathering.

What is Medical Genealogy?
Medical Genealogy, Genetics for Genealogists, and Family Health History are all names we hear when referencing tracing and documenting one’s family medical patterns.  It is  not just the application of genetics applied to traditional genealogy; therefore, I prefer the term “Medical Genealogy” as I believe this keeps the family historian focused.  (How many geneticists do you know who are genealogists or family historians?).”

“Medical Genealogy is the practice of tracing and recording family health patterns that are unique to your family (hopefully to include three generations) in order for the family practitioner to analyze.
Defined by Kathleen Brandt - a3Genealogy,
 Not an official definition. 

Although genealogists and family historians are quite talented, we don’t want to cross the lines of diagnosing based on family history, or predicting life spans or early deaths based on information and patterns.  No excuses…even if the evidence points to this, doesn’t mean you will be memorializing Uncle Charlie on his 58th birthday. Our job is to recognize patterns and document them.

As a community, we can begin by gathering family data and creating a helpful family health tree. 

What is a Family Health Tree?
The Surgeon General website has provided Access the My Family Health Portrait Web Tool, that “helps users organize family history information and then print it out for presentation to their family doctor.” 
However, I prefer an At-a-Glance Medical Tree.  Once you’ve gathered your data/information, by following the symbols that are defined (or add some of your own), this tree can be a breeze, and useful to the entire family.
Where to Find Data/Information? 
  • The Information needed to complete a “family health tree” is probably in your files.  Take a close look at the cause of death on death certificates or obituaries.
  • Review medical records - we often get a copy of veteran medical records.
  • Take note of patterns: premature deaths, infertility patterns in women, birth defect patterns (I have seen some noted on census records), sibling patterns of illnesses, etc. 
The Goal
In the end you should have a tree completed like the one above.  I personally think it will be a work in progress, but it can be useful and your family and doctor will appreciate the work. 

Happy National Family History Day!

Kathleen Brandt

1 comment:

  1. I often include cause of death in my notes and database information, but I really like that they have used a genogram in this fashion. I have used them when i was a therapist for other issues, and now use them for many trends in family history. Thank you for sharing this with us!