September 28, 2009

Genealogy and Medical Problems or Family Illnesses

I've been thinking a lot recently about Health Issues in families and how we genealogists have a unique opportunity to look at our own ancestral history of disorders.

We all know about genetic disorders and diseases - those inherited and passed on in our genetic material from generation to generation. But what about disorders and diseases that are not believed to be genetic, yet certain families have a much higher than average record of family members who have the disorder.

For example, a close family member to me was diagnosed with a Corneal condition called Fuch's Dystrophy. It is known to be hereditary yet none of us knew of anyone else in our family who had it and apparently only about 1% of the population has this! I was diagnosed with a Corneal condition called Cogan's Dystrophy which is eerily similar to Fuch's but is not believed to be a genetic condition.

Because we research ancestors and look for death records we genealogists often have a very interesting and unique opportunity to tabulate these causes of death. That allows us to look for patterns or incidents of certain disorders. We may gain a better understanding of our own health risks, but if nothing else, we gain more insight into our family medical issues going back many generations.

For instance, epilepsy is found in our family. On searching my ancestors in one family branch on my father's side, I found that 4 of the siblings and 2 cousins had listed on their death certificates that epilepsy was the cause of death. I also knew that my great grandfather (on my mother's side) was said to "suffer from fits". His death certificate proved what I suspected, that he had epilepsy.

One disorder I found in my genealogy research was that on my mother's side, many of her ancestors were deaf. I don't mean the hearing loss that often comes with age. I mean deaf from childhood or severe hearing loss in middle age. My mother herself had an operation for her partial deafness in her 40's and ended up later in life with 2 hearing aids. Without them she could not hear unless you put your mouth an inch from her ear and yelled as loudly as you could. I do not know if this deafness in our family is inherited but I think it's good that I'm aware of it!

You might want to do what I did - enter the causes of death, and contributory causes, on a spreadsheet. Note if they were male or female, in case gender plays a part, and then simply tally them up and see what medical history you have in your family lines. Not to scare you but simply to make you better informed about your own possible health issues that might crop up.

1 comment:

Medical Spa Position said...

This is a great way to track down any potential threats to your health through your genes. I have been so preoccupied with all the other health risks and the misconceptions in everyday health and hygiene that I really never took the time to ask and research the most common diseases that "run through the family". It's actually a big part of your personal health and with the technology of today there is a greater chance of better treatment should anything become a concern.