What the Health? Using DNA & Genetic Genealogy for Health Reasons

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My mother, Carol Ann (Mandigo) Barth, 1971, in the traditional crinoline nursing cap.

The idea for this blog post has been on my mind for quite some time, but the recent loss of my mother has given me the push I need to put the idea into words through the sharing of my own experiences.

Many people use DNA and genetic genealogy to find parents, siblings, aunts/uncles, grandparents, and cousins, but there are a few of us out there who also use DNA results for medical purposes. I’m one of those people who, when researching ancestors, pays careful attention to the cause of death of each person. I look for common causes of death among ancestors, particularly within the same family across a single generation or that spans multiple generations.

Here’s an example of one such cause of death I discovered in my father’s biological father’s family: Cancer; specifically, colon cancer. My father’s paternal grandmother, Ida Mae Bassett, died of cancer of the colon, ileum, and abdominal wall. Additional research led me to discover that colon cancer also resulted in the death of at least five other first cousins on that side of the family.

That side of the family also has a history of other cancers as well, including prostate, kidney, and lung cancers. While it’s certainly possible that lifestyle could contribute to lung cancer, as it did in the case of my mother who smoked for 40+ years, I’ve yet to learn of a lifestyle choice that has been shown to have a direct link to colon cancer, prostate cancer, or kidney cancer.

There’s a company called Promethease which will analyze one’s raw DNA and produce a variety of health reports for a small fee of $12. Their official statement reads as follows:

“Promethease is a literature retrieval system that builds a personal DNA report based on connecting a file of DNA genotypes to the scientific findings cited in SNPedia.”

In other words, you’ll get a report based on your DNA what medical conditions or diseases that you may or may not have a genetic susceptibility of developing. I was very curious about whether or not it was just simply coincidence that several relatives on my father’s side had colon cancer, or if there was, in fact, a genetic link or predisposition to it. So, I uploaded my raw DNA file and paid the fee to have a report generated.

The first item that came up in the report was something called Lynch Syndrome. The screenshot below shows exactly how the information appears in the report:

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This immediately confirmed that there is a genetic component to the prevalence of colon cancers on my father’s side of the family. But, this was just one company and one report (along with just one side of my family), so I decided to search to see if there was another company out there that would analyze one’s raw DNA for health & medical conditions.

I found an iOS app (iPhone/iPad) called Genomapp. They claim,

“Genomapp is an app that analyzes your genetic test raw data to give you the maximum information of your DNA. We have the most extensive list of conditions from scientific official sources.”

They were reasonably priced (about $10) and had good reviews so I decided to upload the same raw DNA file I downloaded from Ancestry and have it processed by Genomapp to see if it yielded similar results to Promethease, or if the results were wildly different.

I personally found Genomapp to be much more user-friendly in terms of the overall look and interface. They broke down the results into the following categories:

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Each category is further broken down into probability ranges that are lower than the average, normal, and higher than the average.

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My results with Genomapp essentially mirrored those with Promethease. Not only is my genotype associated with familial colorectal cancer, but it’s also associated with several other cancers, including melanoma-pancreatic cancer, and hereditary pre-disposing cancer syndrome. And, the reports of both programs confirmed what I’d found in my traditional genealogical research.

Many people might feel a sense of ‘doom and gloom’ with these kinds of results, but for me, I consider myself fortunate to have a ‘heads up’ so I can be sure to discuss these findings with my primary care physician and together we can make sure that I get the necessary screenings associated with the aforementioned cancers.

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52 Ancestors #8: Family Photo

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This weeks prompt is ‘family photo’, and I’ve chosen the photo above of my parents, my brother, and myself from 1978. I chose this photo because it exudes youth, innocence, and health. It’s also the only photo that exists of the four of us.

My parents were so young–only 25 & 26 years old with two children–and healthy. This was well before my father had a couple of stents put in, before his diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis, and before his most recent diagnosis of fatty liver disease. It was a time when he embraced his curly hair and showed off his awesome afro. My mother looked so vibrant and full of life. This photo was taken before her sixteen and a half years working the third shift of midnight to 8 a.m., before my brother and I were typical rebellious teenagers, and well before cancer took her.

My father is now closing in on 70. My brother just turned 46. I’m going to be 42 this year.

Time goes by far too quickly. We only get one shot at this life. Always remember to live each day to the fullest and make the time for those you love (and those who love you).

52 Ancestors #7: Love: Thomas Barth & Carol Mandigo

 

My parents in Moab, Utah, in 1998

 

This week’s topic of the 52 Ancestors Challenge is Love, and there is no one in my family tree that I can think of who have demonstrated love more so than my parents. Married for 46 years, they were the quintessential high school sweetheart couple who began dating as 15-year old sophomores; Dad was an athlete who played football and swam, and Mom was a cheerleader. In 1969, they graduated high school together. My mother headed off to nursing school at the Burbank School of Nursing in Fitchburg, MA, while my father headed off to Castleton State College in Castleton, VT, to pursue a double major in chemistry & math and a minor in French.

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Wedding day September 4, 1971

They married on September 4, 1971, in their hometown of Windsor, VT. My mother began working as a nurse at a local hospital while my father worked as an engineer at a local factory. Their first child, a son, was born on December 5, 1972. My brother was a very precocious child who was reading at the age of 18 months and was known for his massive temper tantrums. My parents were dealing with a highly gifted child who didn’t have much support or guidance for what to do with such a gifted child in the public school system, but they were willing to do whatever they could. My brother was such a handful that my mother often told me how she didn’t want any more children after my brother because of how much of a handful he was.

Fortunately, they did decide to have another child in 1977–me. Apparently, I was quite the easy baby compared to my brother, and it sounds like that was a much-needed blessing in their house at that time. Finances were tight for the two of them, let alone as a family of four now. We lived in a single-wide mobile home during the first few years of my life before my parents purchased their first home, a small cape-cod style home for $25,000. During that time my father was laid off from his job as an engineer and took a job teaching high school science and math. My mother was working as a nurse at the V.A. Hospital. Unfortunately, the salary of a teacher wasn’t enough to help my father provide for his family. He left teaching for the United States Postal Service which immediately doubled his salary.

In 1987, my parents sold the house and we moved to the next town to the north where they built a new house. My father continued working for the post office for the next 20 years, and my mother continued her career as a nurse at the V.A. Hospital. They continued raising my brother and me, carting us all over the country helping us fulfill our dreams. They loved their children and all the pets that came and went, but most of all, they loved each other. They loved vacationing together on Marco Island, FL.

They grieved the loss of two of their beloved Bernese Mountain Dogs in just two months’ time (In May and June), but nothing would prepare them for what happened within days of losing their second dog. My mother was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer, and it had already spread to her bones, pancreas, and liver. As my mother put it, “I was fine one day and then I wasn’t.”

The cancer was very advanced, and my mother lasted only a few weeks after diagnosis until she passed on July 28, 2018. The image of my father holding my dying mother’s hand at her bedside is one that I will never forget. This past September should have been their 47th wedding anniversary, and they would have been together a total of 50 years. My mother would have turned 67 years old in December. Her death shattered our family, and we are still picking up the pieces just six months later.

52 Ancestors #6: Surprise: A New Record for Amy Beulah Perkins

I’m a little behind in the 52 Ancestors challenge, but am working to catch up. The topic for Week #6 is Surprise, and originally I had planned on writing about my father’s biological father, but that post will have to wait as we received a brand new piece of information about my paternal great-grandmother, Amy Beulah Perkins.

I’ve previously written that we have not been able to locate her in any record after her daughter’s birth, allegedly on January 8, 1911 (see Week #2). No death record, no marriage records, she’s not listed on any census records, and I couldn’t find her listed in any city directories after 1910, until this week.

My father and I are working to complete our Mayflower Society Descendant Application, and they require birth, death and marriage certificates for ancestors. A few weeks ago, we sent away to the Rhode Island State Archives for death records for Amy Beulah Perkins and her father, Charles L. Perkins. We knew when and where Charles died, but we have never been able to find a death record for Amy.

Earlier this week, we received a response from the state of Rhode Island which stated they found and sent along the death certificate for Charles L. Perkins, but they were unable to locate a death record for Amy which is what we expected. However, they did find another record for Amy Beulah Perkins which made our jaws drop–a marriage certificate for Amy Beulah Perkins to a man named Charles Edward Westgate, that occurred on April 7, 1911, in Bristol, Rhode Island. This was a complete surprise to us as it’s the first time we’ve been able to confirm in a vital record that Amy was still living after the birth of her daughter Thelma in January of 1911.

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Since receiving this incredible wonderful surprise record about Amy Perkins, my father and I have been frantically searching for any records for Amy Westgate (nee Perkins). It’s still early in our search, but we’ve come up empty so far.

I was able to locate Charles E. Westgate listed in the 1912 city directory of Fall River, MA, and he was listed as ‘removed to New York City.’ I was also able to locate another marriage record for Charles Westgate in 1932 to another woman, and his marital status was listed as ‘divorced’ at the time of his second marriage. It’s as if Amy drops off the face of the earth after 1911 and once again, we are left with the same question, what happened to Amy Beulah Perkins?

52 Ancestors #5 At the Library

 

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Windsor Public Library, Windsor, VT

This week’s topic is ‘At the Library,’ and isn’t about a particular ancestor. If I was being completely honest, this week should probably be called ‘At the Veterinarian,’ as I ended up having to take our almost 5 year old Bernese Mountain Dog to three different vets in three different states in three days for epileptic seizures, which was on the heels of 17 inches of snow followed by torrential rain resulting in minor flooding in the area.

The library in my town holds a special place in my heart. I would often tag along with my grandmother as she returned and took out more books to read every couple of weeks. My grandmother lived just up the street from the library and we would walk together.

As an adult, I recently discovered and joined a local genealogy group that meets at the library once a month. I’ve only been to a couple of meetings so far, but I’m really enjoying myself. It’s a very welcoming group with people of all different genealogical experience. I don’t consider myself to be a very social person; I work from home and don’t get out much. In fact, I consider myself to be quite socially awkward. This genealogy group has been a fantastic way for me to try and push the boundaries of my own comfort zone and share the genealogy tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years with others.

The library building itself is not large by any means and has stood there since 1904. It is a one-story Georgian Revival structure, 60×28 feet with an annex 26×16 feet in the rear. The structure itself is composed of Ascutney Granite for the foundation, with the exterior walls being red brick. The cornices and exterior trimmings are made of Fitchburg Granite. The roof is made of the “finest Maine slate.”

I’m looking forward to the next genealogy group meeting that will occur in a couple of days at the same small library I grew up going to.

(And yes, the dog is okay now, but will need some additional follow-up testing and medication 3x a day for the rest of his life.)

52 Ancestors #4 Nathaniel S.B. Goffe

Already into week #5 of the 52 Ancestors in 52 weeks challenge and I’m ecstatic that I’ve been able to keep up. This week’s prompt is “I’d like to meet.” Rather than write about an ancestor that has been in my family tree a long time, I’ve decided to write about an ancestor whose identity was unknown for 106 years. In the fall of 2017, after almost 3 years of waiting and researching DNA matches to my father and his two siblings, I finally had enough evidence that led me to a name. His name is Nathaniel Sigourney Barker Goffe, and he is my paternal great-grandfather. Continue reading

52 Ancestors #3 Sigourney Barker Goffe

Already into week #3 of the 52 Ancestors challenge, this week’s prompt is “Unusual name.” I’ve thought quite a bit about how I wanted to interpret the prompt–an unusual name of an ancestor, or perhaps the unusual name of a town in which an ancestor lived in? Or maybe they went by an unusual nickname? So many possibilities…

I ended up just choosing a name I thought was unusual enough that it’s the only one in my tree of 5,683 people, my paternal great-great-grandfather. His name was Sigourney Barker Goffe, and I would never have known him if not for Ancestry’s DNA matching. In fact, I only discovered him in 2017. Continue reading