Are you interested in discovering more about your family’s health history as part of your genealogy research? Many people get into genealogy these days for that very purpose. It is a particularly common reason for beginning genealogy research among adoptees, but others are interested in it, as well. With the ready availability of affordable DNA testing these days, it is easier than ever to explore the health history of your family, either as the main part of your genealogy research or as an aspect of it. You can go to your own doctor for it, or choose from several companies that specialize in this kind of testing. But how truly important is tracing your family’s health history to your genealogy project? The answer all depends on your own special interests, as well as your family’s ethnic and medical background.
Health History Research as a Hobby
If you don’t belong to an ethnic group that is known for being prone to certain genetic diseases, and if your family does not have a medical history of lots of people getting the same disease over generations, then looking into your health history might just be part of your genealogy research, something you do as a hobby. It is interesting to know what conditions you might be susceptible to, and the knowledge lets you keep on top of getting regularly tested for certain things you might find in your results. It can ultimately make you a healthier person because of this, and by giving you an idea of what the best things would be for you to eat. You can also pass this information down to your kids. This way, they will be armed with the same information as you and will be even more on top of things if you get the health history of their other parent, as well.
When you approach getting a health history this way, it is more of an adjunct to your genealogy research, rather than the main purpose for it. It adds interesting details, and can ultimately help you stay healthier with its advice. The power of this advice can be magnified when you give the test results to your doctor, who will be able to interpret what they mean for you better than you will, and will use it to guide your health care in the future. This type of health history testing isn’t necessary to a good genealogy project, but it is interesting and can give you some health benefits if used correctly.
Health History as a Necessity in Your Genealogy Research
Researching your health history as part of your genealogy can have the potential to save your life, or the life of one of your loved ones or kids if you belong to one of the following groups:
If you belong to one of these groups, you really do need to do a health history as part of your genealogy research project. These are the reasons why, for each group.
Adoptees: If you are adopted and don’t know anything about your birth family, getting a genetic health history done will be incredibly useful to you. Even if you are not interested in finding out anything about your birth family, doing a health history is still an important addition to your genealogy project. Without knowledge of the health history or ethnicity of your birth family, you may not know if you are susceptible to certain diseases, or a carrier for other genetic conditions you could possibly pass on to your children. Doing a health history as part of your genealogy project will give you this important knowledge.
Ashkenazi Jew: You don’t have to be 100 percent Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry for this type of testing to be useful to you. Any percentage of Ashkenazi Jewish DNA of 25 percent or more should warrant a health history testing. This is because people with Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry are susceptible to certain genetic conditions that are not common among other ethnic groups. You want to know your risk of these conditions and of passing them on to your children. Some of the conditions to which those of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry are susceptible include:
- Tay-Sachs Syndrome
- Gaucher Disease
- Cystic Fibrosis
- Canavan Disease
There are a few other, less common ones. These are all genetically inherited diseases. If you don’t have symptoms, you might still have the disease, and it hasn’t activated yet, or you may be a carrier and could possibly hand it down to your children if you marry another carrier. It is worth getting tested to know your risk.
African-American: Those of African-American descent should get tested as part of their genealogy research for the same reason those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent should do it. African-Americans are susceptible to the genetically inherited disease, sickle cell anemia, and you will want to know if you are a carrier who could possibly hand it down to your children.
Someone with a Family History of a Certain Disease: There are some families where a certain disease just seems to decimate generation after generation. In other cases, the family may only have a few people from each generation who gets the “family disease,” but it’s enough and has been going on long enough that the family knows about it, and each member of each generation wonders if they or their children will get it. Being tested will show you if you have inherited the genes for your family’s disease and are likely to develop it, and will also show you your likelihood of your children inheriting it. Sometimes, this testing can reveal a way to break the cycle. There have been a few instances of families with a family disease who did genetic testing and found a way to keep it from being passed down to future generations. It’s worth it to do it if only for that reason alone. Even if there isn’t a way to prevent it, you will at least know your own risk and that of your children. You may be one of the lucky ones in your family who didn’t inherit the genes for the family disease. There are always a few in each generation. Be proactive in safeguarding your health and that of your family by looking into the genetic background of your family’s health history.
Will Moneymaker founded Ancestral Findings back in 1995. He has been involved in genealogy research for over 20 years. The thrill of the hunt, the adventure, and the excitement begin when he started investigating the meaning of his surname. Why I Love Genealogy (And You Should, Too!)