Tributes & Video Biographies
Sharing Life Stories, Connecting Generations, Preserving Legacies

Your Family Health History


Flickr photo: Joey Harrison

I was at the doctor’s office this week and had to fill out one of those five page questionnaires that ask you questions like; have you ever smoked, been diagnosed with thyroid problems, have asthma, etc. They usually ask questions about your family members too. Whether anyone in your family has had diabetes or heart disease, and if so, they want you to identify which relative and on which side of the family.

While I find these questionnaires aggravating to fill out, I recognize that this too is a type of family history that can be extremely important. Knowing which diseases or inherent conditions run in your family can save your life. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, Rear Admiral Steven K. Galson, M.D., while 96% of Americans believe knowing their family history is important, only 33% have tried to gather or write down their family’s health history. As medical researchers continue to decode the human genome, genetic markers that pre-dispose us to certain illnesses are becoming recognized. Far in the future, a simple blood test will help our physicians get an accurate picture of where we may be heading on the health highway but that is years away. For now, it’s up to us to become educated and share that information with a family medical history.

The U.S. Surgeon General and the National Human Genome Research Institute have developed a remarkable web-based tool called “ My Family Health Report” that allows you to record a personalized family health history from any computer. The information provided creates a family tree drawing and chart of your family health. When you are finished organizing your family history information, the tool will create and print out a graphical representation of your familys’ generations and the health disorders that may have moved from one generation to the next. This, shared with family members and your personal physician, is a powerful tool for predicting any illnesses for which you should be checked. My Family Health Report is a web-based interface but for those who prefer, there is a downloadable software version that can be accessed at: http://www.hhs.gov/familyhistory/download.html.

Stefani Twyford is a personal historian and video biographer sharing life stories, connecting generations and preserving legacies. To learn more, visit her web site, find her on Twitter as @stefanitwyford, visit the Legacy Multimedia Facebook Fan Page, or send her an e-mail.

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