Adoption and Family Health History

by Sean Comeford

Collecting your family health history can be difficult if you are adopted or do not have a close relationship with your biological family. It may require some extra effort, but having a health history for yourself and future generations can be invaluable. If you are an adoptive parent, collecting this information on behalf of your children can help you and them make healthy decisions for their future. Health history knowledge is power that can bring you peace of mind and help guide smart decision-making.  There are plenty of resources that can help you collect this valuable health information, even if you aren’t able to ask family members for it directly.

Remember that your environment also plays a large role in your health.  Even if you did not grow up around your biological family, knowing and understanding the health habits of the people you grew up with can help you understand some of the behavioral tendencies you yourself might have or be at risk for.  Things like alcohol and tobacco use, eating habits, and attitudes toward exercise can be influenced by the people around you, even if you are not biologically related to them.

Some of this information will be harder to find, and you might not be able to find anything for some family members.  Do not get discouraged.  A Family Health History is an ongoing project for everyone, and even the smallest amount of information can make a world of difference.  Even if you only collect your own medical history and pass down this information to your own children, you will be doing a great service to future generations of your family.

Ultimately and rightfully it is your decision to seek out information about your own family history.  If you are interested about learning about your biological family’s health history, here are a few ways to get started.

This booklet from the Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families provides guidance on the search process and information access, as well as resources for further help in conducting a successful search.

Once you know basic information about your biological family, your family’s health history can be unraveled.

First you want to gather information about your relatives.  You should look for their:

  • Names (first and last)
  • Age (current or at death)
  • Marriages
  • Ancestry (country of origin)
  • Cause of death
  • Previous illnesses or medical treatments and surgeries

You can try looking for more detailed information in different official records and government documents such as,

Medical Records- contact their hospital or clinic. Laws concerning collection of information vary by state. Contact the health and social service agency in your state for information about how to access medical or legal records.

Birth Certificates, Marriage Certificates, and Death Certificates- fill out an application and visit your city or town clerk’s office.

Obituaries- check newspaper archives and places of worship

Keep in mind that sometimes this information simply cannot be found. Next week, Penn Live reporter Julie Dreese will discuss genetic services that can be helpful to adopted individuals in finding out about health risks when information about family health history is not available.

Read more about Julie at, and be on the look out for her guest post on Genes in Life!