Monday, July 2, 2007

Knowing the family history is good for your health

Cousin MJ is the genealogist in the family. She maintains the family archives, photographs, family tree charts, and takes the time to track down birth, death and military records. Thanks to her I know that our grandfather, Christian, came from Germany by way of Canada and Fort Wayne, Indiana. She even dug up his father's and mother's names, which I can't recall at the moment. But if I sent a quick email to MJ, she could tell me. She keeps her records organized and can find just about any tidbit you'd want.

She inherited family recipes and put them together with the history of the cook into a book, or maybe it was a CD, as gifts for her three daughters. What a treasure!

Nothing makes MJ do a happy dance quite like finding another relative for the tree. Her idea of a fun time involves cemeteries or dusty library genealogy files. And, although that sounds like light entertainment, it is serious business, especially when it comes to family medical history.

What do we pass on to our kids? Freckles? Brown eyes? Curly hair? Dominant right-hand? Diabetes? ALS? Heart disease? Lazy eye? Arthritis? Glaucoma?

Doctors don't seem to want to know family history beyond the parents, more often than not they only ask about my own medical history. They don't care that my mother has turned into the bionic woman with just about every joint replaced.

But then of course, doctors rarely know a patient from birth to death -- unless the patient doesn't live very long. So it is up to us to know. We expect doctors to figure out what's wrong, but they barely know us, and haven't even figured out what's right, so it is up to us to keep our medical history and make it relevant to our own lives.

Maybe MJ could add another column to her records that list all of the ailments of past generations. Consumption? Old Man's Disease? They could be relevant to me, to my children, to my grandchildren.

But knowing MJ, I bet she already is way ahead of me. Did you know, Grandpa was blind? I bet MJ knows why.

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