12 November 2008

Knowing your Medical History

It is not a new concept to try to find out how so and so died way back when, even if just out of curiosity. We know that many medical conditions are hereditary and that is a much better reason for finding out how your ancestors died. Granted sometimes it isn't always easy to find that information.

I have found that cancer runs pretty prevalent in my family, as do aneurysms, heart disease, and DVTs. I don't know if any of these can be considered a hereditary thing or not, although family history of cancer increases one's risk of developing it. I have found a rather disturbing medical condition on my Mother's side. It was discovered by another genealogically-minded family member, my Mother's cousin.

George and Anne Turner, date unknown

probably in the early stages of the disease

George Turner was born 12 Jun 1825 in Essex England. At the age of 4 his family moved to Canada, where he resided for a good many years. In 1848 he married Anne O'Brien and started a family. They had seven children. In 1857 they made the move to Michigan and in 1865, moved to Humboldt Co. Iowa.

George was a hardworking man and held several occupations during his life: shipbuilder, blacksmith, railroad contractor, and farmer. He applied for 160 acres in Humboldt Co. under the Homestead Act in 1865 and in 1871 this land was officially his. He farmed this land with his sons for many years.

Around 1879, at the age of 54, George started exhibiting signs of something being wrong. I imagine that the first signs of his disease went unnoticed by most or explained away as they were probably vague, and could have been occurring for some time before 1879. These early signs were personality changes, irritability and anger, difficulty concentrating, and memory problems. He could have had slight balance problems, clumsiness, and involuntary facial movements.

As the disease progressed these signs and symptoms became quite severe. The jerky involuntary movements gave rise to one of its names: St. Vitus' Dance, as it was known in those days. Today it is known as Huntington's Chorea or simply Huntington's disease.

Huntington's disease was first documented in 1872 by George Huntington, an American physician. It is a progressive and degenerative disease of the nervous system. It is inherited and it has no cure. It usually doesn't manifest until middle age after most people have had their children and have passed the gene on. Children of an affected parent have a 50% chance of getting this gene. Anyone who gets this faulty gene will eventually get the disease and die from it.

I think in 1872 the cause was not known. According to George's obituary, "he received a kick from a mule which caused his nervous trouble known as St. Vitus Dance, from which he has suffered ever since and which was the final cause of his death."

I don't know about George's parents. I know nothing of his mother. I have one record that states his father, also named George, died from apoplexy, an old term for stroke or cerebral vascular accident (CVA). As already stated, George had seven children. Two of his daughters were afflicted. One daughter, Sarah was a victim, as were 5 of her children and several grandchildren. The other daughter, Elizabeth, was a twin. I don't know whether her twin got it or not. If they were identical twins I assume she would have it too. To my knowledge, Elizabeth had only one child and it is unknown whether the gene was passed to him.

George is my great great grandfather. I descend from his son, Edmund, who did not carry the gene.

For more information on Huntington's disease try the Huntington's Disease Society of America or The Hereditary Disease Foundation.

And although it is interested in heritage markers which reveal family relatedness and doesn't do medical DNA testing on any samples, check out Ancestry.com DNA testing.


Kudzu said...

This is very interesting. A relative found us through our same very uncommon last name, and she and my father, and I think my brother,too, went to Louisiana to a church that had a lot of history recorded. They copied pages and pages of it, and I have quite a few of those pages. It lists on a few of them the cause of death. But it seems they either died of pneumonia or cancer. Some of these pages list dates of Catechism Confirmation and Baptisms. Most of it is in German. I am thinking I may scan and post some of these pages as I find them. Perhaps there are others looking for some of these names.

Sunday Girl said...

Hi Kudzu,
Nice to see you over here, thanks for visiting. I look forward to seeing your new posts. You'll have to translate the German for me, though. lol.