Enter keywords:

Collect Your Family Health History

Are you headed to a family reunion soon? Are the holidays approaching? Family get-togethers are perfect opportunities to collect important information about your family history. Be sure to talk to all blood relatives, even ones without major health problems. It is important to get information about family members at least three generations back. This means you would collect information (for example) about your mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. You may wish to start with those closest to you—parents, brothers and sisters, children, and then move on to grandparents, uncles and aunts, nieces and nephews, and half-brothers and half-sisters. Talk to great-uncles, great-aunts, and cousins once you’ve talked to all your closer relatives first. To keep track of the information, download and print copies of this questionnaire and fill one out for each family member.

Tips for Talking to your Family about Family Health History

Let your relatives know that you are trying to learn more about your family health history. Knowing information about family’s past can improve your future health and can even save lives. Share with your relatives that the information they give you can help the entire family be more aware and make wiser decisions. Be sure to explain to them that this information will be kept confidential and not shared with anyone without permission.

Information to gather about your family (you may have to gather bits and pieces of information from many different people)

  • Unique characteristics (for example: skin tone, eye color, nose shape, hair texture, etc.)
  • Country or countries your family came from
  • Any illnesses your family members may have had
  • Age at death of any family members who have died
  • Cause of death

Questions to ask each family member:

  • When and where were you born?
  • Where have you lived in the past and where do you live now?
  • Do you have any chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes?
  • How old were you when you developed these illnesses?
  • How is/was the problem treated?
  • If you don’t know the name of the disease, what were the symptoms?
  • Have you had any other serious illness, such as cancer or stroke?
  • How old were you when you developed these illnesses?
  • How is/was the problem treated?
  • If you don’t know the name of the disease, what were the symptoms?
  • Do you have any mental illnesses or learning disabilities?
  • How old were you when you developed these illnesses?
  • How are you being treated for your illness?
  • If you don’t know the name of the disease, what were the symptoms?
  • Have you or your partner had any difficulties with pregnancies, such as miscarriages or stillbirths?
  • What medications are you currently taking?
  • What types of foods do you usually eat?
  • Do you smoke? How often? How many years have you smoked?
  • Do you exercise? How often and what type?
  • Other Tips to Remember:
  • Be respectful. Many family members may be uncomfortable talking about their own or others’ health, and may not wish to share everything. Let them know that you understand this and that any information they do share with you will be valuable.
  • Be patient. This process can take time, but will pay off in the end.
  • Be a good listener. Don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions, such as exactly which type of diabetes or cancer they have/had.
  • Use other information sources. If there are gaps in your medical history, such as not knowing a birth date or why a family member died, try looking in medical records, birth certificates, or death certificates. If you were adopted, see the other resources page for sources that may help you.
  • Keep good records. Keep the information in a safe place and update it as needed
  • Share the information. Give copies of your Family Health History to all family members once you finish it.

Tips on Sharing your Family Health History with your Doctor

Be sure to tell your doctor if:

  • More than one members of your family have had the same illness.
  • Any member of your family has gotten an illness at a much earlier age (10-20 years earlier) than most people do.
  • Any of your relatives were affected by an illness that is more common in the opposite sex (such as a male having breast cancer).
  • Relatives have had more than one illness at a time (such as someone having diabetes and asthma or different types of cancer).
  • Ask your doctor about lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise changes, that you can make to decrease your chances of getting illnesses that run in your family.
  • For more information about collecting your Family Health History, plus tools to make a Family Health Portrait, visit the other resources page.
© Howard University, all rights reserved | National Human Genome Center, Howard University College of Medicine 2041 Georgia Avenue NW, Cancer Center Building, Room 615, Washington, DC 20060 202-806-9438 Webmaster / Contacts - WWW Disclaimer
This website is best viewed at a resolution of 1440 X 900