Sunday, October 25, 2015

Genetics and Genealogy

Can DNA Uncover Health Hints?
Staying abreast of the trends in genealogy can be daunting, but is definitely necessary for the serious family historian or professional genealogist.  

Why Now?
In 2004, the Surgeon General, in cooperation with other agencies, 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. There's even a "My Family Health Portrait Tool" to enter your family health history and learn about your risk for conditions that can run in families. But can genetics and genealogy really paired?  The answer is yes. 

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, 2010. 

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.  Our job is to recognize patterns and document them.

What Traits and Health Analysis Discovered via DNA?
As a community, we can begin by gathering family data and creating a helpful family health tree. You may also want to include the 23andMe limited health analysis approved by FDA standards, using DNA. Know that only 23andMe include the following reports:


Carrier Status: are you a carrier for an inherited condition? This includes cystic Fibrosis, Sickle Cell Anemia, Hereditary Hearing Loss, Sj√∂gren-Larsson Syndrome and more. To see the list of possible reports from A - Z visit the All Carrier Status Reports. You may also find it interesting that some genes are most notable within ethnic groups. This is a great place to visit to learn about common diseases if you are of French Canadian , Ashkenazi Jewish, Danish, Finish of African heritage. 

Food Preference: Most would agree that DNA can affect lactose intolerance, and muscle composition. It's not far fetched to believe that DNA can affect alcohol flush reaction, but can DNA really affect caffeine consumption? According to 23andMe the answer is yes.  Learn more at Wellness Reports (scroll down linked page.)

Traits Report: Of course genetics play a part in your "likelihood of having certain characteristics" to include the color of your hair and facial features, but the list of 23andMe Traits reports include  whether an individual will have asparagus odor detection.  Yes, Asparagus Odor Detection! There are over 20 traits reports.  

Although interesting, much of this DNA scientific finding is not helpful unless you are digging into your medical genealogy.

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.” 
Using this tool, genetic genealogists may create 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 and can be reviewed by your geneticists if necessary.

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.  Your family and doctor will appreciate the family research. 

Happy National Family History Day!
(adapted from Medical Genealogy, Nov 2010)

Kathleen Brandt
a3Genealogy@gmail.com
Accurate, Accessible Answers

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