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The Importance of Knowing Your Family’s Medical History

I can still remember the look on my doctor’s face when she asked me for my family’s medical history. All she saw was this teenage girl sitting in front of her; I can tell you she did not expect the laundry list of information that came out of me. I rattled off all the information I knew starting with my great grandparents. When I was finally done and she realized I caught her looking at me strangely, she was quick to explain, “Most people don’t know more than their parent’s medical history…”

 

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At that point I had been into genealogy for several years and even as a kid it didn’t take me long to see a pattern in my family’s medical history. Sitting with my grandparents talking about ancestors I had never met, it was only natural to eventually ask how they passed. After awhile I even made a habit of asking my grandparents about illnesses they or their family members had suffered from. Eventually I started to get my hands on death certificates and I made note of the cause of death listed on each record.

From the research I had done, I learned there are several things that my family and I needed be aware of. For the men in my family heart attacks at a fairly young age are not uncommon. While one of my great grandmothers lost her battle with breast cancer, another beat cervical and ovarian cancer. Then there were a few things that affected both men and women in my family, namely other forms of cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

Although all of this may sound depressing, it is important information to know since there are several medical conditions that are believed to be hereditary. Some of these conditions include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, breast and ovarian cancer, glaucoma, Alzheimer’s, allergies and depression.

It is also not uncommon, whether caused genetically or environmentally, that things like alcoholism, drug abuse and learning disabilities have also been found to run through families.

I encourage people to keep record of their family’s medical history, not only will it add to your research, it could save your life or the life of a loved one. Look into your ancestor’s death records, sit with your family, ask questions, record the information and share your findings. Knowing what has afflicted your family in the past will give you and future generations a chance at prevention.

 

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Family Group Sheets: How Do I Get Started?

Last week I introduced you newbies to Pedigree Charts, which are the most commonly used charts in family research. As promised, this week I wanted to familiarize you with another commonly used worksheet: Family Group Sheets.

Where Pedigree Charts cover the absolute basics, birth, marriage, death and the people you descend directly from, Family Groups Sheets include much more information about each family unit. They are extremely useful tools for gathering and organizing more in depth information and give you a more complete look into each family’s structure.

Below is a great example of a Family Group Sheet.

Family Group Sheet No 1

Where do you begin on the Family Group Sheet? You begin with the same person you started the Pedigree Chart with…

You.

Let’s focus first on your family (you, your siblings and your parents).

Looking at the Family Group Sheet the top section covers the “Husband” which in this case would be your father. You would list his full name: first, middle and last. For spelling variations you would record any nicknames he may have or any other variations of the spelling of his name.

  • Spelling variations are actually extremely important to make note of. Did/does your father go by any nicknames? Have they changed their name? Do/did they go by their middle name rather than their first? I will cover the importance of this in a future blog-until then be sure to record all and any names the person in question goes by.

The next spots on the “Husband’s” section of the worksheet cover birth, marriage, death and burial information. Here you can record dates as well as places of each event. At the far right of this section there is a space for health or other miscellaneous info. Did your father suffer from any illnesses in his lifetime? What was his cause of death (if he has passed)? These are also important details to know.

  • The importance of knowing health related issues will be covered in a future blog, until then be sure to ask and record the information.

The last half of the “Husband’s” section includes spaces to record other details about your father’s life, including occupation, other marriages, church affiliation, date and place of christening/baptism and military service. Fill in any relevant information.

Finally the “Husband’s” section comes to a close with a box to include a photo of your father and spaces to record the full names of his parents (your grandparents).

Done filling out Dad’s information?

Next you would move on to the “Wife’s” section, which would be your mother in this case. The only real difference when filling out this section would be your mother’s name. Be sure to record her full name using her maiden name, not married name. If she had been married before marrying your father or had been remarried following your father be sure to include those married names under Spelling Variations.

Otherwise you would continue through the “Wife’s” section filling in all the information you know about your mother.

Finished filling out Mom’s information?

Next you would move on to the “Children’s” section. This would be where you cover information concerning you and your siblings. Like the “Husband” and “Wife” sections, there is room to include a photo, birth, marriage, death and burial information, occupation, church, military and misc. information. The only difference is this section includes a spot to list the sex of each person as well as the number of children they have had and a section to list the name of their spouse(s).

Are you one of more than four children and have run out of room?

No need to worry. In this case, there is an extension worksheet that can be added covering just children. Below is an example of the extension sheet. As you can see there are no sections for “Husband” or “Wife” it strictly covers the children. Be sure to staple these two sheets together (Family Group Sheet with Extension Sheet for additional children).

Family Group Sheet-Page 2

Missing Information?

If you have made your way through this worksheet and you are missing information on your parents and siblings one solution is reaching out to them! As I suggested with the Pedigree Chart, visit your family members and have them fill out their sections. If you can’t make a visit, call or email them for their information.

If your family members have passed, reaching out to them directly is obviously not an option. However, if your siblings are still living they may be able to provide more information about your parents (if your parents have passed). If your siblings have passed, reach out to any children or spouses they may have had to see if they can help with missing information.

If you have done the above and you are still missing information, make note of what is missing. Your next step will be figuring out what documents you need to obtain the information and determining where you will need to go to acquire those documents.

Finished. Now What?

Once you have finished your family group sheet where you are listed as a child, you can do another if you are married with children. This time you and your spouse will be listed as the “Husband” and “Wife” (obviously) and you would fill in the “Children’s” section with your children’s information.

Keep in mind you can turn up in several Family Group Sheets.

  • In one, you will be listed as the child with your parents listed in Husband/Wife sections
  • In the Second, you will be listed as the Husband or Wife
  • In the Third, your spouse will be listed as a child (with their parents listed in the Husband/Wife sections) and you will be listed as their spouse.

Finished? Think again! *evil laugh*

For every family unit-you create a family group sheet. Once you have finished a family group sheet for you, your spouse and children… then finish one for your parents, you and your siblings you would start another for your parents.

This time, your parents become the “Children” and their parents (your grandparents) become the “Husband” and “Wife”. Once you have filled in all the information you know, you would move on to the next family unit.

Your grandparents would then become the “children” and their parents (your great grandparents) would become the “Husband” and “Wife” and so on.

As I suggested earlier, reach out to other family members for help (siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.). Go as far as you can with the information they are able to provide before turning to hunting for documents.

Don’t Stress!!!

A lot of people get overwhelmed with genealogy… I can pretty much see you panicking now… “A family group sheet for EVERY family unit?!?!”

Breath.

The worst thing you can do is get too far ahead of yourself. Focus on one family member at a time, one family unit at a time. As I said before with the Pedigree Charts, it’s all about breaking the process down into steps.

TIP: Don’t move on to the next person or family unit until you feel you have found all you can on the one you are currently working on.

Finally, keep in mind-these worksheets are here to help. They help give you direction, they help you form a more complete picture of your family and they help you organize.

So, embrace them-don’t hate them!!

Until next week… if you haven’t already-read my blog on Pedigree Charts, familiarize yourself with them as well as the Family Group Sheet and start bugging your family if you haven’t already!

Have fun and good luck!

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Pedigree Charts: How Do I Get Started?

Q: “I’d like to learn more about my family but I don’t know how to get started…”

This is probably one of the most common things I hear people say when I encourage them to look into their family history. My first suggestion is to not think too far ahead-start with the absolute basics.

To begin-let’s have a look at a Pedigree Chart. A pedigree chart is what comes to the mind of most people when they hear, “family tree” or “genealogy”. It’s the tree like chart that shows the people you directly descend from.

Due to lack of space, most printed versions don’t typically show a whole lot for siblings, aunts, uncles, etc. Once you start using genealogy programs to build your tree-there is more space and flexibility to show other descendants of your ancestors.

Below is a great example of a basic Pedigree Chart

Free Pedigree Chart - free family tree - Teach Me Genealogy3So, where do you get started? You start with the person you know best…

YOU.

Looking at the pedigree chart above, you are the base of your tree (far left box). Like any other family member or ancestor, your story matters. Take a second to fill out your full name, date and place of birth, date and place of marriage and the name of your spouse (if you are married). If you are filling this out-you are obviously still alive and kicking so we can skip date and place of death for now.

Besides being a sobering reminder of our mortality, there is another reason/need for the date and place of death in the first box. We’ll get to that in a bit.

Next you move on to your parents.

There are two ways of doing this… you can fill it in yourself (if you know your parents birth, marriage and death information) OR (if your parents are living) you could call, email or visit them and ask them for help filling in their boxes.

Now move on to your grandparents.

If you are lucky enough to have your grandparents-VISIT them and ask them for help! If they have passed, ask your parents for help filling in their parent’s information. If your parents have passed-reach out to your siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins for help. You’d be surprised by how much information other family members might remember. They may even have documents on hand that will provide you with information you’re looking for.

With any luck, as you reach out beyond your immediate family, you may find another family member who is also researching the family. It’s like hitting the genealogy jackpot when this happens. You could end up with a ton of new information with one phone call, email or visit… again I suggest visit.

You are going to continue to work your way as far back as you can go with the help of your family. As you do this, you are going to see holes of missing information. Take note of the missing information-the next step will be learning what documents are needed and where to go in hopes of obtaining the information.

What If I Have The Names Of My 2nd Great Grandparents?

If you find yourself lucky enough to go back further than your great grandparents and have run out of room on the pedigree chart-no need to worry! Here’s where the spaces for information on death come in handy for the first box…

On a new pedigree chart, you will fill in the base of the tree (the far left box) with the information of one of your great grandparents. So, the last generation on your first pedigree chart becomes the first generation or “base” on the next. You will have one new pedigree chart for each great grandparent (total of 8) filling in the names of their parents, grandparents, etc. as you discover the information. Run out of room again? Repeat-last generation becomes base.

“…genealogy is so overwhelming…”

It really doesn’t have to be. Like anything else, it’s all about breaking the entire process down into smaller steps.

Step One- Start With The Basics.

  • Reach out to your family for help with the pedigree chart
  • Fill the sheets out in pencil (information can change)
  • Worry about chasing records after (lovingly) interrogating your family
  • Keep yourself organized

I always suggest that newbies start on paper before jumping to the technology that’s available. The sheets that I introduce you to will help you understand the basics and give you an idea of what you should be looking for. Once you get a feel for the process, you can use the sheets to input the information into a genealogy program.

Next week, I’ll introduce you to another worksheet that will help you gather and organize more information about your family, beyond what can fit on the pedigree chart. Until then-get a feel for the pedigree chart and if you have any questions don’t be shy! Leave them below in the comments and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Have fun and good luck!!