Genealogy 101: Your family’s medical history

Knowing your family’s medical history can make your doctor’s life a little easier

Researching your family tree can be fun, frustrating (when you hit a ‘wall’), and even helpful; helpful regarding your family’s medical history, that is.  In this day and age, knowing your family’s medical history can make your doctor’s life a little easier.

Many medical conditions, including heart disease, breast cancer, prostate cancer, diabetes, alcoholism and Alzheimer’s disease have been shown to be passed down through families.  By knowing your risk, you can make informed decisions about prevention and screening, and even participate in genetic-based research aimed at understanding, preventing and curing disease.

When reading the obituaries of your relatives, pay attention to what they say about your relative’s state of health.  Did he die after a long fight with cancer; was it from an unexpected stroke or heart attack?  And also make note of the end of the obituary, where they usually say where donations can be sent, especially if they didn’t mention how the individual died in the main part of the obit.  If they suggest Alzheimers, or a particular type of cancer research, that may indicate what your relative suffered from during life.

The ‘thank you’ that is in some obits may also provide a clue, as some thank the nurses, doctors, or clinics that the deceased visited during life.

The internet makes searching for obituaries fairly easy, while some sites are free, others require payment for you to view the actual obits.  If you have a membership to, they have a fairly extensive library of obits.

If your ancestors are from Europe, remember to check for any old boxes of mail that your parent’s may have tucked away in drawers or cupboards.  Many Europeans often will send cards with the obit, or the service info, along with a list of all the surviving members of the deceased’s family, all typed out neatly on the card.  A wealth of information is usually found on those cards, and here’s a hint for finding them, if they were kept in their original envelope, look for an envelope with a black border around the edges.

Happy Hunting!

The next meeting of the Barriere Genealogy Group will be on January 4, from 6-7 p.m. at the Barriere Library.  Bring your laptop if you have one.

Keep in mind when reading old obituaries that some medical terms have changed over the years:  apoplexy = stroke; bad blood = syphilis; blood poisoning = septicemia; Bright’s disease = glomerulonephritis (kidney disease); consumption = tuberculosis, pulmonary; cretinism = hypothyroidism, congenital; dropsy = congestive heart failure; fatty liver = cirrhosis; glandular fever = mononucleosis; grippe = influenza (flu); jail fever = typhus; lock jaw = tetanus; lung fever = pneumonia; lung sickness = tuberculosis; plague/black death = Bubonic plague; podagra = gout; Pott’s disease = tuberculosis of the spinal vertebrae; quinsy = streptococcal tonsillitis; scrofula = tuberculosis of the neck lymph nodes; toxemia of pregnancy = eclampsia (high blood pressure and seizures).


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