Your family history holds important information about your past and clues to your future health. Knowing your family health history can help determine if you or others in your family may be at increased risk for developing diseases like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. Family gatherings, such as holidays, are a great time to catch up on family news and information. They can also provide a good opportunity to learn about your family’s health history. This information can help healthcare providers assess your risk for disease and determine appropriate preventive measures or courses of treatment.

The U.S. Surgeon General’s Family History Initiative is a national public health campaign to encourage all American families to learn more about their family health history. The U.S. Surgeon General declared Thanksgiving Day, when American families traditionally gather together to celebrate and give thanks, to be National Family History Day. Over the holiday, or at other times when families gather, Americans are encouraged to talk about, and to write down, the health problems that seem to run in their family. Learning about your family’s health history may help ensure a longer, healthier future together. The Heartland Genetics Services Collaborative is promoting this initiative in the Heartland states (AR, IA, KS, MO, NE, ND, OK, and SD) by raising public awareness and providing information on this website. Download our Family Health History Toolkit for tips and information on your family health history, or call us at 1-888-881-8852 for a paper copy.

How to Collect and Record Your Family Health History

For an easy way to collect and record your family health history, download our Family Health History Toolkit.

You can start collecting information by writing down your own health history. Next, move on to your siblings, children, and parents. Going back one generation at a time, gather information on aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, cousins and grandparents. For more details on what information to collect, and how to obtain it, see our Family History Tools page. If you are adopted, you may be able to learn some of your family history through the family that adopted you or from adoption agency records.

One way to record a family history is by drawing a family tree called a “pedigree.” This can be done by hand or by using various computer programs. There are many tools available to help you record your family health history in a pedigree. The Surgeon General’s website includes an online tool, My Family Health Portrait, which allows you to organize and save information on multiple family members, as well as drawing a family tree. It can also be downloaded and printed.

See our Family History Tools page for more information on how to collect and record a family history and links to other tools and resources.

What to do When You Are Done

Family health histories should be given to all healthcare providers and kept as a permanent part of a patient’s medical file. You should also share your family health history with your relatives. Meet with your primary healthcare provider to review your family history. Note patterns that occur, such as multiple close family members with diabetes. For each health concern, discuss whether there are steps you can take now – such as altering your diet, exercise, or lifestyle habits – to prevent you from being diagnosed with the same problem. Talk to your relatives and encourage them to take the same steps. You should keep your family health history in a safe place and update it regularly (or update it at a regular family gathering, such as Thanksgiving or a family reunion).

If you have specific concerns about your family history, it may be helpful to meet with a genetics specialist. You can find genetic professionals in your area by visiting the Clinic Directory on the GeneTests website ( or the Find a Counselor link on the National Society of Genetic Counselors’ website ( See our Resources page for additional information, including links to disease-specific resources.

Heartland Activities

The Heartland Genetics Services Collaborative is sponsoring an ongoing educational campaign in our region to promote and coordinate education and increased access to information and tools about Family Health History. States in our region include Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.