Make a Family Health Portrait

The New Year is a good time to think about one of the more serious aspects of preserving family memories. The information we gather about our family’s  health now may prove invaluable to future generations—or perhaps even this generation.

I know my grandpa died from colon cancer, and my dad’s life ended with an abdominal aneurysm. My children know some of that, but I dare say the grandchildren have no idea. Unless each of us makes a record of what we know and share it, the information will be lost to future generations.

Along with knowing what illnesses affected our families, it is helpful to gather as much additional information as possible. How old were you—or your relative—when the disease occurred? If the person died, how old were they and did they die from this disease or something else?

Start jotting down what you learn in a notebook, or create a health record file on the computer. If you’d like forms ready to fill out, do an Internet search for Record of Family Health or Medical History. Several sites will open up. Some offer free forms and others have a small cost.

The Surgeon General has put together a free Family Health Portrait that you can access online at All the site does is provide the tool to put the information together; it does not retain anything. Once you’ve built your family portrait or family tree, it’s yours to do with as you wish. The form takes approximately 15-20 minutes to fill out to build what is called My Family Health Portrait. When I clicked on the link to create my form, it took quite a while to download. But once I had the form, it was easy to fill out. The website provides help if you need it, and I did need to work with the form a bit to fully understand it. After filling out the form, you can get a calculation showing your risk for specific diseases.

Whether we use one of the forms such as Family Health Portrait or make our own notes, it will be most helpful if families share the information. If I share my portrait with my siblings or cousins and they decide to make their own Family Health Portrait, it will re-index. By re-indexing, they become the central figure on their Portrait and I will become one of their “branches.”

My resolution for 2015 is to put together a record of our medical history. Preserving family memories is important, and a medical record could prove to be the most important one to preserve.