Did your grandmother give you those freckles? Who passed those brown eyes on to you? A family tree can help you find out. Reaching into our past and learning about our ancestors can be fun and rewarding. Tracing our genealogy can uncover satisfying and sometimes surprising information.

Many people have also compiled a medical family tree, which can help identify certain genetic conditions that run in your family. This is important knowledge for you and those you love. In fact, a record of your medical family history is one of the most important pieces of information you can share with your healthcare provider. It could even save your life.

A medical family tree can help you identify your risk for a variety of genetic conditions, including:

  • Allergies
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Asthma
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Glaucoma
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart diseases
  • Joint diseases
  • Obesity
  • Osteoporosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Thyroid problems

Best of all, there’s no cost! All it takes is some time and commitment.

Ideally, a medical family tree should cover three generations on each side of your family. This would include your grandparents, parents, siblings, and aunts and uncles. Your children, cousins, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren should be included as well.

Your biological parents, siblings and children share half of your genes. Therefore, any hereditary conditions that they may have will have a greater chance of affecting you. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, and nieces and nephews share 25% of your genes. Great-grandparents and cousins share even less of your genetic makeup. However, any pattern is significant as it increases your risk of developing that condition.

You may want to start by making a list of your relatives, starting with your immediate family. From there, create a list of questions to ask. Your list of questions should include the following information:

  • Name
  • Gender
  • Ethnicity
  • Date of birth
  • Date and cause of death if applicable
  • Diseases or medical conditions and the ages at which they were diagnosed
  • Diet, exercise routines, tobacco use or weight issues if possible

If you’re adopted, you can ask your adoptive parents if they received any medical information about your biological family. Another option is to see if the adoption agency has your biological family’s medical history on file.

Once you have collected the information, you’re ready to organize your information. Click here to download and print a medical family tree template from Dignity Health – Yavapai Regional Medical Center.

In addition, the Surgeon General’s office provides an online My Family Health Portrait tool to input and organize your information. Any information you choose to save is stored on your own computer, so your privacy is protected. You can access it by visiting https://phgkb.cdc.gov/FHH/html/index.html#.

By knowing your family medical history, you and your healthcare provider can determine your risk for developing a variety of hereditary medical conditions. Most importantly, your physician may be able to detect and treat those conditions early, before they become more serious. In addition, you may be able to prevent or delay the onset of these medical conditions through diet or lifestyle changes.

And of course, your medical family tree is a great way to track and share important family medical information with those you love.