Creating a Health History

Quick question—how did it get to be November without my noticing? I’d swear it was just summer a minute ago, and here we are taking down Halloween decorations and starting to think about Thanksgiving. (Yay, turkey!)
The U.S. Surgeon General has declared Thanksgiving to be National Family History Day and encourages us to talk about health conditions that run in our families. When you think about it, the holidays present a really good time to fill in what we know about our families’ health histories. Family get-togethers present opportunities to catch up with relatives and holiday letters sometimes include details about health challenges that others in our family are facing.

As we research our family histories, we are gathering information that can help us in compiling a health history. Using the tools we already have at our fingertips, we can create a chart that we can share with our doctors and other family members.

Gathering Information
This year as part of my organizing efforts, I’ve been going through and adding the details in records to my family history data in Family Tree Maker 2012. As I’m going along updating the people in my tree, I’ve started extracting the cause of death from death records and adding them as “Facts” in my tree. To do this, I go to the person’s page in my tree and select the blue + to add a fact. In the example below, you can see that I’ve added a “Medical Condition” to the facts and I’m about to add a “Cause of Death.”

Once I click OK, I can go ahead and enter the cause of death in the box on the right. Health details are a very personal matter and if your Family Tree Maker 2012 file automatically syncs with an online tree, you may choose to keep medical conditions and causes of deaths private. Family Tree Maker allows you to keep certain facts private by selecting the “Options” button in the right panel. And of course you’ll want to cite the source of the information and can easily do so by clicking on the “New” button under the “Sources” tab.

Creating a Report
Once I’ve included medical conditions and causes of death in Family Tree Maker, I can create a report that includes them. To start I select the person in my tree that I’m creating the report for. Since I want to see siblings as well as direct ancestors, I went to the “Publish” tab and from the “Charts” menu, I selected the “Extended Family Chart” and click “Create Chart.”

Now that I’ve created my chart, I’m going to customize it to fit my needs. I click on the first icon in the right panel to open up the “Items to Include” dialogue box. In that box, I can add items to include using the + sign, remove unnecessary elements with the x, and rearrange the order of the items I’m including using the up and down arrows.

I’ve included birth and death information in this chart so that I can see each person’s lifespan, although it’s not necessary. To cut back on the space used, since a birthplace isn’t needed, I clicked on the button below that box for “Birth options” and unchecked the “Place” box. Selecting “Death” in the list of fields included, I could do the same for the place of death.

This gave me a chart that looked something like this. I printed it off and highlighted conditions that carry increased risk factors based on heredity. (For the record, this is a fictitious family tree that I created for the purposes of this article.)

Using this type of chart also makes it easy to see where I’m missing information. For people who are deceased, I can check on vital record availability (see last week’s article for more information on locating death records ). For those still living, the upcoming holiday season may provide an opportunity to share what I’ve learned. Being aware of any risk factors could help all of us stay healthier and that’s a good thing. I have a lot of ancestors to chase, and I’m counting on my family to help.


Juliana has been writing and editing newsletters for more than thirteen years and is now in full panic mode after coming to the realization that the holidays are almost upon us.

Other articles in the 06 November 2011 Weekly Discovery: 

> Your Civil War Story: More Gems from a Pension File

> Family History Tip: Check Find-a-Grave for Burial Info  

> Photo Corner