Medical history important in family trees

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Museum, resources, provide guidance

Family trees are a valuable tool to find out about one's history, and one important piece of that is medical history.

When researching family trees, it is important to learn and record medical conditions of relatives, so that family members can make informed medical decisions.

"You want to know what [health conditions] to look out for," said Jeremiah Buntin, Barry County Museum historian. "There are many medical tests out, so it helps if you can narrow them down. If your family had a problem with heart disease or cancer, for instance, it gives you a direction."

"As a genealogist or the family record keeper, details you record could benefit future family members," said David Burton, civic communication specialist, University of Missouri Extension.

Such details can be found in family stories, obituaries, death certificates, census records, newspaper stories, and interviews, Burton said.

"One of the best places is the Missouri Digital Heritage website," Buntin said. "They list cause of death for the years 1910-1966, such as if they died from a heart condition [or something else]. Obituaries don't always tell you what they died of. Otherwise, you can go to the local health department, which will list the cause of death on a certificate if you are a direct relative."

When recording family histories, Burton said it is important to note the following:


Birth and death dates if deceased, as well as cause of death

Occupations, which might influence health

Major illnesses such as cancer, heart disease or diabetes

General patterns of ill health over the life of an individual

Birth defects or stillborn children born to a family

Allergies, both environmental and drug related

Emotional or behavioral problems (depression, alcohol use, anxiety, etc)

Chronic health problems like asthma or high blood pressure

Vision and hearing problems

General health routines, like tobacco use and diet

Note the age of the person when health conditions were reported

"A log of family health history can be shared with family members and medical providers," Burton said. "We cannot even guess how the information could help future generations."

Burton developed a 20-page guide entitled, "The History of Me," which contains questions that can help guide a person toward preserving a personal history for future generations.

The booklet is available for purchase at the Greene County Extension Center in Springfield or at for $8. A direct link to the book can be found at:

For additional questions about family trees, people may contact the Barry County Museum at 417-847-1640.

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