We all know that certain medical conditions "run in the family". These hereditary conditions can be interesting (hair color) or painful (hemophilia). Knowing what conditions you or your children might inherit can be critical to living a long and relatively healthy life. When you start seeing a medical doctor, he or she asks for your medical history. This information gives the doctor an idea of your known risks. Rather than guessing while sitting in the doctor's waiting room, investigate your medical history and your spouse's or significant other's medical history so you know what to look for. I also use the information when creating genograms to see where medical conditions may have originated.

Creating your medical history

Hereditary conditions usually show up within 3 to 4 generations so that's all you need to consider. That is, 3 or 4 generations from the person being documented. So if you are documenting your child's, let's call him George, medical history you need to consider the health condition(s) or the following people biologically related to the child:

# Person or People Notes
1 George If the child is showing some kind of condition, such as diabetes, then you have to take that info account.
2 Parents (biological) The child has at least a 50% chance of inheriting a condition from each parent.
3 Aunts and Uncles While his parents might not exhibit a hereditary condition, his aunts and uncles may have inherited it from their parents.
4 First Cousins His aunts or uncles may have passed a medical condition to their children. The risk is lower because there is another parent involved (the cousin's other parent).
5 Grandparents Some medical conditions appear 'skip a generation' so you still need to look at his grandparents.
6 Great Aunts and Uncles Just as his parents brothers and sisters might have a condition, his grandparents might be a carrier but just passed it on.
7 Great Grandparents The risk is much lower but you should consider it, just in case.


The more blood relatives you include the more complete the infromation will be. Ignore people related by marriage, adoption, etc.

What should I look for?

First, identify the people you need to incude. Second, find out what medical conditions each person experienced. Create a separate page for each person. Interview as many family members as you can and be sure to let them know you will keep the information confidential and why you are collecting the information.

Search for any ailment, not matter how minor, because you don't know what is important until you ask. Try to find out the background of each condition. Did Uncle Tim have a limp? What caused it? Did he have it from birth? (Birth defect.) Or did he have an accident? Death certificates can be a great source of contributing factors, if you can get access to any. 

Be sure to ask why someone died. If your great-grandmother was hit by a farm tractor then the cause of death is obviously not hereditary. If, however, your aunt or uncle died of cancer then that's important. Be clear: what kind of cancer?

Also, the further back you go the more likely you will run into obsolete medical terms. My 2nd great-grandfather suffered from "paresis" (paralysis, probably from a stroke). I had to search for that word when I read his death certificate.

Example Form