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First Person / CAROL DAUS

Examining the Roots of Your Family Tree

August 16, 1999|CAROL DAUS | Carol Daus, a freelance medical writer who lives in Orange County, is the author of "Past Imperfect: How Tracing Your Family Medical History Can Save Your Life" (Santa Monica Press, 1999)

A variety of resources can help you in your search. State and federal government agencies maintain records that may assist you in tracing your family medical history. In California, the Bureau of Vital Statistics in Sacramento (telephone: [916] 445-2684) is a good starting point for birth, marriage and death certificates. Religious and funeral records can play an important role in your research. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints maintains a computer database of 60 million immigrants in its family history library in Salt Lake City. I used one of the church library's local branches in my research.

So what else did I learn about my family medical history?

Her Biggest Risks: Heart Disease, Diabetes

Although there was a considerable history of cancer in my family, my biggest risks came from heart disease and diabetes. No two relatives had died of the same form of cancer--a strong indicator that there was no genetic predisposition to these illnesses. A genetic counselor set my mind at ease by telling me that my risk of developing breast cancer and other forms of cancer was no greater than the general population. But heart disease and diabetes showed up frequently in my genogram, suggesting that these illnesses could some day affect me.

If you want help in analyzing your health history, your doctor can refer you to a genetic counselor. You can also contact the National Society of Genetic Counselors at (610) 872-7608.

While some people might not want to know about their medical roots, I took this as an opportunity to safeguard my health and to make changes in my life to help reduce my risk of contracting certain diseases. These days I eat a low-fat, low-sugar diet, minimize my alcohol consumption, exercise regularly and keep a careful eye on stress levels. I have regular medical checkups and cholesterol screenings. Tracing my family medical history was clearly one of the most important projects I ever undertook.

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