Monday, January 11, 2010

Health and My Family Tree

What's the pattern of health and disease in my family tree? I'm starting to track this so I can understand some of the possible health risks that I and my generation will face. I know a good deal about my immediate family but info on the horizontal links in the family tree is far from complete.

Privacy laws mean that I can't always find out why a relative died, even when I get a copy of the death cert. And sometimes people hesitate to talk about illnesses and death in the family, so details can be sketchy. Quite a sensitive topic to bring up when I do locate long-lost relatives--what's the best, most discreet way to ask: "What did your parents die of?"


  1. As you point out, death certificates are almost useless for providing important family health information. My brother's death certificate gives cause of death as "hypertensive cardiovascular disease" when he had a lifelong history of alcoholism, depression, and myasthenia gravis--all of which are important for descendants to know. This is a good reminder for people to include this information in any family or personal histories they write. How to ask the question? Maybe instead of "what did he die of" you could try, "how was his health?"

  2. Thank you for the great idea, Nancy! I'll do that from now on. And I'll post any other good ideas that come up.