Genealogy is Good for Your Health

Smith family gathering in Brooklyn.

At a recent family gathering a cousin criticized my genealogy passion: “Why are you looking back? You should be looking forward,” she said.  As a genealogist, I gasped. But it took only a moment to re-group. Here was a teachable moment! Timing must be right in order for learning to happen. A simple conversation began. The dialogue that we had became the best way to explain how genealogy ie. family history could be good for your health–mind, body and soul!

Did you know that the more you know about health conditions and traits that run in your family, the healthier you can be? Genealogy is also good for your emotional, spiritual and psychological health! But, more on that in future postings.

Start talking: The best way to start your genealogy health journey is to start talking with the living. Today, even if you are adopted, you can find your family history by taking a DNA genealogy test to find relatives. At the reunion, we started by talking about family traits and cultural traditions passed down. One of the traits we discussed was left-handedness. Our mother was born left-handed. But because of her family’s cultural taboos, she was forced to become right-handed. And, three of her four children were born left-handed!  We also talked about other traits like hair texture, body types and ethnic mixtures found on both sides of our family.  All of these topics, especially ethnicity and cultural backgrounds are relevant to your health and should be discussed by your health care provider.

Ten Questions to Ask at Family Reunion:

  1. What traits run in our family? eg. dimples, twins, eyes or hair color, freckles, attached earlobes, toe lengths, artistic, musical, mechanical, athletic abilities.
  2. What health problems run in our family?
  3. How old were family members when diagnosed with an illness?
  4. What conditions caused death in our family? Who was the oldest in our family?
  5. Any pregnancy losses?
  6. Any birth defects, mental illness, or developmental disabilities?
  7. What is the ethnic make-up of our family?
  8. Where does our family come from? (country, regions)
  9. Lifestyle queries: smoking; where did family members work, list occupations; did they work on a farm, factory, outdoors; obesity or extremely thin; drug, alcoholism problems?
  10. Any allergies to foods or medication?

Tool Kit for Family Health History:

Here’s a link to a tool kit with important facts, ideas and activities to help you document your family history, published by Utah Department of Health:

Genealogy Resources: The following records can help you learn what your living relatives may not know about your family history:

  1. Death certificates-includes cause and date of death of an ancestor; may include diseases, conditions of concern during a specific historic era.
  2. Funeral Home Records – funeral programs, files might name relatives assisting and providing family information.
  3. Obituaries – checking old newspapers can net amazing details especially if there was an accident or a crime.
  4. US Census– check for age of parents, children born to older parents, large gaps between births; many relatives living together; certain occupations can impact health, like coal miners.
  5. Religious Records – and church bulletins also include clues about a specific community and the person’s health condition.

2 thoughts on “Genealogy is Good for Your Health

  1. Thanks for sharing this valuable information regarding genealogy and health.
    Key questions to ask, genealogy resources and the link to the tool kit makes this an easy to use, comprehensive aid to for getting the conversation started.
    Early awareness of my family’s history of arthritis, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and other diet-related maladies, inspired me to change from my childhood diet to a whole foods, vegetarian diet. Fortunately, I have remained free of these health far.
    This article was extremely helpful and I plan to discuss this topic with my own family. I will definitely share this with my networks.

    1. I can relate to your comment about family history of arthritis, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure–all illnesses in my family too. Many conditions can be cured with a healthy diet (like the food on your posts!) and simply sharing family history health stories. Thank you for your comments and sharing my post.

Comments are closed.