Talk to Your Family This Holiday Season

1943-03-06-saturday-evening-post-norman-rockwell-articleMany of us will be enjoying dinners and other festive occasions this month and next with our relatives. I would suggest this is a great time to compare notes with the relatives. Indeed, older members of the family may know a few tidbits of genealogy information that you have not yet found. However, there is another, more serious, reason for comparing notes with relatives: family health hazards.

Compiling a family tree can offer more benefits than discovering stories of war heroes or family dramas; science and preventive medicine are getting a look in, too. The skeleton in the cupboard could be a genetic predisposition towards disease that, once uncovered, might provide potentially life-saving indicators.

Many of us are becoming aware that a lot of health problems are inherited. If your ancestors had a significant health problem, people seated at your dinner table might want to know that. Awareness of health issues is critical for many inherited medical problems.

A family medical history can’t predict your future health. It only provides information about risk. Other factors — such as your diet, weight, exercise routine, and exposure to environmental factors — also affect your risk of developing certain diseases. However, if all family members are aware of problems that “run in the family,” they might be motivated to focus on diet, weight, exercise routine, and exposure to environmental factors. A family medical history helps document familial patterns that might have an impact on your health, such as trends towards specific types of cancer, early heart disease, or even something simple such as skin problems.

The first step for most people is to draw up their medical family tree. The holidays would seem to be an excellent chance to get started, when many family members assemble together. Keep in mind, however, that some loved ones might be uncomfortable disclosing personal medical information, perhaps due to guilt, shame, or a reluctance to face painful memories. Also, as you collect information about your relatives, respect their right to confidentiality.

Compiling a family medical history can help you and your doctor to discuss which medical tests to undergo or early-screening groups to join, or even to help with diagnosis of a rare condition.


I made a medical family tree using death certificates back to my great great great great grandparents. I also have one with illnesses prior to death for more recent members of the family. It can be very interesting. The current 6 pound cost for English PDF certificates makes this a good time to start your medical history.


I did a genogram of my maternal Grandfather’s family of 13 in the 1980’s. I was surprised to discover that more than half of them died of cancer of the stomach and colon. My mother later was diagnosed with a genetic form of colon cancer and the surgeon told her to share the info with her children. I shared it with all my cousins who shared half their genetic inheritance from that line. Until she was diagnosed I couldn’t be sure if it was something environmental they were all exposed to or something genetic.


A wonderful article. Talking to your family can find the answers to genetic health problems. A DNA health test this year for myself, a medical team taking my health problems into consideration that just could be genetic and am now on the road to better management of problem. Hope all this will also help others in our family.


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