Measuring Your Family Health History


by: Laura Heidekrueger

We as genealogists and family historians have always known the importance of preserving the past for the future. Our ancestors passed on a rich heritage of food, music, solid values and their genes! Familial links are being recognized daily between cancers, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. It makes it even more critical that we incorporate a detailed genogram, or family health history, into our research.

A genogram, once left in the hands of geneticists can now be produced on your own computer. They map out relationships and traits that may otherwise be missed on a pedigree chart. A health history report can be generated with your favorite genealogy program. Either way, issues in interpretation and privacy arise. Interpretation of all information from compiled genograms or health reports should only be made by a licensed physician. Any recommendations regarding life style changes in diet, excersise or treatment must be done with your physicians knowledge and approval. Family health histories are tools for your doctor to use.

Privacy of all medical information is essential. Medical information in genealogy programs can invade privacy, even if the ancestors are long deceased, especially if published on the internet. Remember, your ancestors medical data is yours and your descendants also.

A well documented genogram should include 3-4 generations of health data. A series of standard symbols are used.

Basic symbols used in a genogram

Squares denote males, circles females. The illustration above shows a basic family format of a father, mother and offspring. You can tell at a glance they had 1 son and 2 daughters. From here you would begin to build your families history.

Information that should always be included are date, age and cause of death. Health problems such as heart disease, miscarriages, high blood pressure of living members. Siblings in each generation are listed from the oldest on the left to youngest on the right. Many make more than one genogram. Remember the privacy issues. We must tread lightly when it comes to entering habits like drug abuse, alcoholism and abusive relationships and who is entitled to see the information you compile.

Not only are these used for strict medical problems. They can become a pleasant experience to map out other traits you and yours have inherited. For instance, eye color, artistic qualities, temperament, musical ability. Once done you can see at a glance how heredity plays such a great role in our lives. We can then see the great gifts our ancestor passed down to us!

This information is provided by Chicago Genealogy and Family History Research Services, active Genealogy researchers for over 14 years.

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Additional articles:

  • Demystifying the National Archives
  • The Quest for Hidden Treasures
  • Preparation Before Contact
  • Coming Home

    Suggested Reading:

  • Genograms: Assessment and Intervention
  • Focused Genograms
  • Expanded Family Life Cycle
  • What's New in Genealogy ... Today!
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