Friday, March 19, 2010

The Compleat Database: DNA and Health

Much is said these days about recording family health information, and we know the benefit of providing this information to our family doctor. Many people are even taking DNA tests to better understand their health risks, a practice that is often debated. As genealogists, we are interested in every aspect of our ancestor's lives and are equally interested in our heritage, cultural and physical. Recording this information in the genealogical database is the subject of Judy Rosella Edwards' most recent article, "The Compleat Database: DNA and Health." The article explores the types of information we might want to record and how such information might be used.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Do a Different Genealogy Search this Holiday Season

Thanksgiving really does begin the holiday season -- from that day on, up through New Year's Day, families gather and connect, almost more than any other time of year. And while Thanksgiving has been named National Family History Day, with families encouraged to gather their family health history, the opportunity presents itself all season. In her article, "National Family History Day: Do a Different Genealogy Search This Thanksgiving," Rita Marshall reviews the U. S. Surgeon General recommendations on how to start a family health history and who to include. And something not often discussed are the follow-up questions, and how to interpret the information you receive "genealogy style."

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Halloween it's not, but Mummies are in the news

At this time of year when we are charged with gathering our family health history, you might be interested to read the recent U.S. News & World report article, "The Mummies' Curse: Heart Disease." Using the latest imaging techniques scientists  have discovered "hardening of the arteries -- or atherosclerosis, which causes heart attacks and stroke -- in mummies up to 3,500 years old." Thought to be a modern condition, atherosclerosis turns out to be "as old as the pyramids."

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Thanksgiving, National Family History Day

We cannot be reminded too often the importance of gathering a family health history. Since 2004, the U. S. Surgeon General has declared Thanksgiving to be National Family History Day, as part of the Family Health History Initiative. The aim is to encourage families as they gather throughout the holiday season -- and at other times -- to talk about and write down any health problems that may run in the family. This is one of those easy-to-procrastinate tasks, but what better time than the holidays to initiate a conversation?

As noted, health care professionals have known for a long time that common diseases can run in families. Tracing the illnesses suffered by your parents, grandparents, and other blood relatives can help your doctor predict the disorders to which you may be at risk and take action to keep you and your family healthy. To aid families in recording such information, My Family Health Portrait, was created. This is a web-based tool, which allows users to record, print, and share their family history information. In particular, families are encouraged to share the information with their doctors.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

"My Family Health History," new version released

Today marks the release of a new version of the Surgeon General’s “My Family Health Portrait," as announced in a recent press release. Aimed at helping consumers more easily assemble family health information that is important for their health care, the new Internet-based tool is ready for use in a patient’s electronic health records (EHRs). The software code for the new tool is also being made openly available for adoption by other health organizations, under their own brand.  The My Family Health Portrait software is a product of the U. S. Surgeon General's Family Health Initiative, which began in 2004 to encourage all American families to learn more about their family health history.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Gather your family health history this holiday season

It's that time of year again. As Thanksgiving approaches, we are reminded that 2008 is the fifth year of the U.S. Surgeon General's Family Health Initiative, aimed at encouraging families to take advantage of holiday gatherings to collect important family health information. In support of this initiative, the U.S. Surgeon General's Office has provided the My Family Health History Portrait tool and web site.

A recent article in The Lincoln Journal, "Five things you should know about your health,"provides a useful list of information to get you started, things we need know for every member of our family, which is also good to keep on hand in the event of emergencies.

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Friday, November 2, 2007

Collecting your family's medical history

Thanks to the U. S. Surgeon General's Family History Initiative, launched in 2004, the Thanksgiving holiday season has become a time to take advantage of all that family togetherness and gather as much family medical history as possible. Alan Smith's most recent article, "Medical Family History," keeps us reminded of the importance of collecting a this information and how it can help you identify important health patterns through the generations. So you may wish to begin now, preparing for what you can learn this holiday season.

To aid families, is the new, revised version of the tool, "My Family Health Portrait," a collaboration between the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General and the National Human Genome Research Institute. In case you are not familiar, "My Family Health Portrait" provides a place for you to record and story your personal family health information. This is a web-enabled program that runs on any computer that is connected to the Internet and running an up-to-date version of any major Internet browser (Mozilla, Internet Explorer, etc.). The new version of the tool offers numerous advantages over previous versions, which had to be downloaded to the user's computer and was available only to those running the Microsoft Windows operating system. This new version is accessible to all and is free to use.


Thursday, November 1, 2007

Fourth Annual National Family History Day, Nov 22

This Thanksgiving is the fourth annual National Family History Day, as declared by the U.S. Surgeon General. The American College of Medical Genetics (ACMG), in a press release today, encourages every American to know their family medical history and if they haven't already gathered this potentially life-saving information, to start the conversation about family medical history this Thanksgiving, often the only time when extended family is gathered together.

Why is family health history so important? Knowing your family's medical history can help your health care provider to predict conditions for which you and your blood relatives may be at risk and help you take actions to minimize risks and protect your health. A family health record is among the greatest gifts you can leave your children and grandchildren," said genetic counselor, Judith Benkendorf, MS, CGC, Project Manager at The American College of Medical Genetics.;

You can discuss family health history by starting with questions like, "Are there any health problems that are known to run in our family? If so, what are these conditions, who has/had them and at what age were they diagnosed?" You may also want to talk privately with certain family members about potentially sensitive topics.


Friday, October 26, 2007

Researching family lore

Sooner or later the family historian is likely to come across evidence suggesting a family member spent time in some type of mental institution. In earlier times, this information was very hush-hush. In her article, "Asylums, State Hospitals, and Private Institutions," Gena Philibert-Ortega not only gives some ideas for researching family members that may have live and/or died in an institution, but also gives a little insight into how people might end up there. You might be surprised, for example, to learn that a husband could have his wife committed for no particular reason. And while you may not be able to learn all you would like to know, owing to privacy laws governing such records, beyond death, some resources are available that may at least help you confirm family lore and pinpoint time and place.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Branch out when taking your family health history

Recent research suggests that we examine our family health history, we really need to branch out and consider both sides of the family tree. According to a new study, a deadly gene's path can hide in a family tree when a woman has few aunts and older sisters, making it appear that her breast cancer struck out of nowhere when it really came from Dad. As reported in the Baltimore Sun, "Family tree can hide breast cancer genes," the study suggests thousands of young women with breast cancer - an estimated 8,000 a year in the United States - aren't offered testing to identify faulty genes and clarify their medical decisions. Consequently, guidelines used by insurance companies to decide coverage for genetic testing should change to reflect the findings, according to study co-author Dr. Jeffrey Weitzel of City of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte, Calif.


Saturday, May 5, 2007

Remember to take your family health history

A recent press release in recognition of National Women's Health Week reminds us to gather our family health history. Taking charge of your health is a recurring theme of National Women’s Health Week, which kicks off annually on Mother’s Day. It takes place May 13-19 this year.

“Women’s Health Week is a great reminder that we need to take time to care for ourselves,” said Jo Parrish, vice president of communications for the Society for Women’s Health Research.“No one knows your body, your health and your history better than you do. You have to stay informed and be engaged in the decision making process about your care to improve or maintain your health.”

Some studies show that you cannot rely on health care providers to have all the answers and to know all of your needs. A 2005 American Heart Association study revealed that only 8 percent of primary care physicians and 17 percent of cardiologists knew that heart disease kills more women than men.

But there are proven ways to protect yourself and safeguard your own health. Knowing your family’s medical history and sharing your history with your physician can go a long way. The article goes on to suggest five important screening tests for women. Next month, as Father's Day approaches, National Men's Health Week puts the spotlight on mens' health and important screenings for men.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Genealogy plays role in researching heart disease

In Salt Lake City, LDS Hospital researchers say genealogy could provide some of the answers to the causes of heart disease. KUTV, a local television network, reports that researchers have been pouring over family history databases and now hope to take their efforts a step further. Doctors say there is no doubt that heart disease is genetic. Now they're hoping pedigree charts from families with history of heart disease will help answer some questions. Right now the database has about 10 million names, and researchers have collected blood samples from 15,000 patients with family histories of heart disease. For more on this story, see the Salt Lake Tribune article, "LDS Hospital looks at family history for heart disease clues."

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hatfields and McCoys -- a new look at an old fued

We've all heard of the infamous fued between Hatfields and the McCoys. What we probably didn't know is that is the fued may have some genetic underpinnings. In her article, "Genetic Health Found in Famous Feud Family," Melissa Slate, who writes on the genealogy research in the Appalachian region, discusses a rare genetic disease affecting those on at least one side of the fence, the McCoy family. Among the symptoms . . . increased rage. But as Melissa points out, this is more than a historical anecdote; being genetic the disease can be passed down, and researchers are keenly interested in locating descendants of McCoy family.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Heads Up! Both sides equally relevant in researching AND reporting family health history

A new and important aspect of family health history came out this week, suggesting women may not be thinking about -- or reporting incidents of breast cancer in their father's family. Based on a survey reported in, "Breast cancer: women may be underreporting paternal family history," some women do not seem to know that both sides of the family tree are equally important -- or they are simply underreporting that information. When 800 women were asked about a family history for breast cancer, more women reported the mother's family history for the disease and less for the father's family history for the disease. The results suggest doctors may need to be more specific in asking women about paternal health history, in order to capture that vital information. It was also suggested that men in a family may be less likely to be told of a woman relative diagnosed with breast cancer and, therefore, unable to share that information with his own family. The lesson here for all of us is that both sides of your family health history, regardless of the condition, are equally relevant.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

19th century genealogical data used in scientific study

"What exasperated or overworked parent hasn't declared to a child at least once: 'You'll be the death of me!' Now we know -- with unprecedented precision -- just how true that can be."

An article this week in the San Franciso Chronicle, Genealogy study examines price of parenthood, reports on the findings of a recent study that utilizes data from 22,000 19th century families. "As raw material, the researchers, used a database of genealogical information kept by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, examining the reproductive history and survival of 21,684 couples married between 1860 and 1895. Each person was married only once, and polygamists were excluded." Along with other fascinating tidbits, findings from the study also show that younger children in a family had less chance of survival than their older siblings, and that losing a mother raised every child's risk of dying young. The data sample is said to be the largest used to estimate the cost of human procreation.

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Monday, November 20, 2006

National Family History Day, 2006

According to a post on the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services web site, Acting Surgeon General Kenneth P. Moritsugu, M.D., M.P.H., has declared Thanksgiving 2006 to be the third annual National Family History Day. "Over the holiday or at other times when families gather, the Surgeon General encourages Americans to talk about, and to write down, the health problems that seem to run in their family. "

Resources related to the Surgeon General's Family Health Initiative are available at New materials for 2006 include a printable PDF brochure entitled "Before You Start" and a redesigned, user-friendly PDF version of the tool, both of which are available in English and Spanish.


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