Knowing Your Family Health History Can Save Your Life

My Grandparents Ellen & Clifton Thompson

Far too few Black folks know their lineage. Part of this is directly attributable to how our ancestors were ripped from the Continent, our families sold into slavery, and disbursed around the globe.

Another part stems from our reticence to talk about health issues. Yet another part is the poor access to quality care as well as misdiagnosis from, and distrust of, the healthcare establishment.

But to be WHOLE, you must summon the fragments of self-knowledge into a more complete picture of your health status. Doing so can offer a life-saving profile of your genealogy and risk factors for a variety of health conditions.

How to gather a family health history

  • Talk with your family, starting with the elders. Ask them about their childhood illnesses, medications, surgeries, and current health conditions.
  • Find out as much of this information you can about their parents, siblings, aunts, uncles–any of your forebears.
  • For any who may have passed on, find out their cause of death.
  • Continue this inquiry with the next younger generation of your family, gathering as much information you can not only about your parents and grandparents, but their siblings as well. Many times diseases can run in families, but not manifest in your most direct bloodline.

Your elder relatives might not know the medical terms for these conditions. That’s okay. Any nugget of information could be very helpful. For example, learning that someone in your family tree had “Sugar”–another name for Diabetes–could mean that you are at higher risk for the disease as well.

Knowledge is power. Knowing your health history and sharing it with your healthcare provider is a powerful way to help you and future generations of your family live longer, healthier lives.

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Filed under Black Families, Health Topics, Intergenerational

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