In part, the bitter feud between the two mountain families may be explained by a rare genetic disease that plagues dozens of the McCoy family members. The presence of the disease has long been known by genetic experts, but has just now been revealed as Vanderbilt University physicians are searching for more descendants to warn them of the risk.
The disease is called VonHippel-Lindau Disease and is characterized by tumors that may or not be cancerous and may affect the eyes, ears, pancreas, kidney, brain, and spine. Seventy-five percent of the affected McCoys have tumors of the adrenal gland which produce hormones leading to increased blood pressure, intense headaches, facial flushing, nausea, vomiting, pounding hearts, and increased rage. Affected family members have long been known to be combative, even within their own family. Physicians are looking so hard to find McCoy relatives because the disease can be fatal.
Genetic experts suspect that a good number of older McCoys just dropped dead of the disease. The diseased was not widely known, and it wasn't until 1968 that the disease was named; prior to that it was just called the madness disease.
Despite the fact that the McCoy family has been proven to carry the disease, whether it really played a major role in the Feud has yet to be proven and many are dubious. No one single factor seemed to be the core of the battle that raged through the mountains of eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia, then Virginia, for decades. Many say that the Feud started over a pig, others say that the battle was really over land, and still others say the two mountain lovers Roseanna McCoy and Johnse Hatfield finally tipped already strained relations between the two families over the edge.
No matter what the true cause of the Feud, this story has a more important lesson. The study of genealogy has proven to be more than just a pleasant and fascinating hobby. It is proving to be a worthwhile endeavor that can prove to be scientifically useful in the detection and treatment of disease. So the next time someone laughs when you tell them you enjoy studying your family, smile sweetly and tell them that it is good for you health