31 March 2011


     When my husband and I were planning marriage and children, we did not give a thought about being tested for the possibility of being carriers of the gene for Tay-Sachs Disease (TSD). TSD is a fatal inherited disease that destroys a child's nervous system. My husband is Jewish, so I was aware of the prevalence of TSD in the Jewish community. But, being Irish and Polish myself, I thought there was no need to be tested, since the disease requires genes from both parents.
     Years later, through my family history research, I discovered that I might have Jewish ancestors in my Polish tree. I also discovered that the Irish, along with French Canadians and Cajun peoples, also have a high risk of being TSD carriers. Although we have no incidence of TDS in the family, these revelations brought home to me the importance of collecting the family medical history, along with the other family records and stories.
         Those of us of Irish descent should also be aware of a couple of other diseases besides TSD. Both celiac disease and hemochromatosis run in Irish families. Celiac is a digestive disorder in which the body cannot process gluten. Hemochromatosis is a hereditary disease in which the body absorbs too much iron, leading to a number of health problems and possible death. It is sometimes called "The Celtic Curse."
      I know a few researchers who have made family medical trees. They have noted diseases and medical conditions on a genealogial chart. These charts can be very useful to a family doctor in assessing a patient's health and risk for various diseases. Of course, there is also a rise in the popularity of DNA testing for many diseases that run in families.
     So, as you note the life statistics of your ancestors, don't forget to note any medical conditions and causes of death. Your family medical history could be a lifesaver to you or a descendant one day.