Create a Medical Pedigree


We are letting doctors know that we can do research for their patients who need to know their genealogy for medical reasons.  Human genetics is revolutionizing medical research. Physicians now have tools at their disposal for diagnosing and treating genetic diseases. A great deal of the success in these new treatments depend on the information that the patient can supply to the doctor about his or her family’s health background. This genealogical information is also necessary for genetic counseling. DNA testing is now a help to genealogists in cases where the parent of an ancestor is in question.

With current research in finding cures for degenerative diseases and disorders, people are becoming aware that they need to know what diseases may have been passed down from their ancestors. Most people don’t know how to begin to obtain this information.

Researching your Medical History

·        Inherited Diseases

·        Cause of Death

·        Older medical terminology

·        Medical records

·        Drawing the pedigree chart using computer software

Inherited Diseases

Some tendencies for a particular disease are passed down through families. Diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, early heart attacks, alcoholism, some cancers, and obesity are just a few of the common one. Other rarer and often times more devastating diseases are Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), Alzheimer’s, Sickle-cell anemia, Huntington disease, Glaucoma, Hemophilia, Down’s Syndrome, Cystic Fibrosis, and the list goes on. Some hereditary diseases affect certain ethnic groups. How can we protect ourselves from these diseases? The only way is to be aware of our predisposition toward a disease by knowing what diseases affected our ancestors and our relatives. We may be able to prevent some diseases by changing our behavior and by detecting these health problems early.

Cause of Death

The best place to start gathering a medical family history is to send for the death certificates for all family members going back three or four generations and see from what diseases or conditions they died. If you have never sent for a death certificate, you can learn how to do this in the Death Records section. Due to privacy issues, you may have difficulty getting death records for relatives not in your immediate family, such as, aunts, uncles, and cousins. You may need a notarized letter from your doctor stating that you require the information for medical reasons. If you are adopted, read the section on Adoption Records; medical information is usually released even if the names may not be. Cause of death is noted in other places besides a death certificate, you may find information on a census or mortality schedules, in military records, obituaries, and hospital records. Janna and Daniela can help you locate these types of records and more. Go to our Help Me! section at the end of this page.

Older Medical Terminology

After you have the death certificate or medical record in hand, some of the terminology on the older records may not be familiar to you. You may need to consult a medical dictionary to understand what the modern equivalent to a disease might be. When Daniela was reading the 1870 census for her ancestors, she saw that their nine year old grandson was living with them and the notation in the health column was “white swelling.” This was the terminology of the time for tuberculous arthritis, a painful swelling of bones usually found in the joints. In the early 1900s it was discovered to be caused by a tubercular infection in the bone.

Medical Records

It may not be possible to get the medical records released without a letter from your physician explaining why it is necessary to your health to have the information. Daniela found the medical records for her great-great grandmother who died in a state asylum. The medical records had been transferred to a state historical society and microfilmed. She was able to get a copy of the records, including a transcript from the court hearing detailing why her ancestor was committed to the asylum. However, the photocopies from the microfilm were laced with holes as it is still a state law that the diagnosis of the illness is protected by the privacy act even though Daniela’s ancestor died over 100 years ago. Due to recent laws regarding privacy, some death certificates have the cause of death blacked out. Each state has its own laws on privacy.

Drawing a Medical Pedigree Chart

Medical Pedigree Charts are different from regular genealogy pedigree charts. Different symbols are used for each sex and different notations are made for marriages and relationships. Software is available to create a medical pedigree charts. Genealogy One-on-One has this software and we can create a medical pedigree chart for you. Click here to see what a medical pedigree chart and a Genogram look like.

Help Me!   Find my great-grandparent’s death record.

Help Me!   Find a definition of an old medical term used on this death certificate.

Help Me!   See if there is a mortality schedule for my county.

Help Me!   Plot a medical pedigree chart for my family.

To ask these or similar questions, click on Help Me!, fill out the form that comes up, and submit your questions.