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


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:


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


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.


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

52 Ancestors Challenge (2019)

After failing miserably in 2018, I’ve decided to give Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors Challenge another try. I’m already a couple of weeks behind, but my goal this year is not to worry so much about being on-time with the prompts. Instead, I’m just going to focus on completing them.

I’ve also decided that I will be recycling some of the 52 Ancestors posts from 2018 when appropriate and updating them for 2019. The point is to keep researching and writing about genealogy. The prompts are open to interpretation, which is why I look forward to completing them.

Week 1: First

The first ancestor I began researching was my paternal grandmother, Thelma Evangeline Perkins.

Thelma E. (Perkins) Barth, 1953/54

Thelma Evangeline Perkins was born on January 8, 1911, on Poppasquash Road in Bristol, Rhode Island, and died on September 13, 2007, in Windsor, Vermont. I was most fortunate to have my grandmother present on a daily basis for the first 30 years of my life.

We were very, very close. In fact, she truly was my best friend. Even when I left Vermont and moved 811 miles away to Reynoldsburg, Ohio, we spoke daily, sometimes several times a day by phone. I was also the last family member to see and be with her the night before she died.

Despite how close we were and the secrets we shared, she still had many, many secrets that she took to her grave. It wasn’t until 10 years after her death that her secrets would start to reveal themselves. Continue reading

Mabel (Griffith) Mandigo


Mabel Dorothy (Griffith) Mandigo, 1984

This week’s prompt is called, “Invite to Dinner,” and the person I would most like to invite to dinner is my maternal great-grandmother, Mabel (Griffith) Mandigo. She was short in stature (only 4 feet 8 inches tall), but had a big personality. Mabel was fierce, passionate, bold and had no problem speaking her mind to whoever was in front of her. She was the sixth of eight children born to Edmund W. Griffith and Mary C. Roberts. Mabel came into this world on December 23, 1901, in Castleton, Vermont. Continue reading

DNA Testing: A Pandora’s Box

I received an Ancestry DNA kit for Christmas this year. I mailed it back to Ancestry on 12/29/17, and the results are expected to take 6-8 weeks or longer due to the high volume this time of year. Both of my parents have also taken the Ancestry DNA tests, as well as two of my father’s siblings. I’ll post my results when I receive them, but for now, I’ll share each of my parents’ DNA results from Ancestry.

My Mother (C.M.)

I was eager to see the results of my mother’s Ancestry DNA test because we thought she may have some Native American heritage. She is also an only child, so there are no siblings of hers we can test. As it turned out, she didn’t, and the results were pretty much as we expected:

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My mother’s paternal grandmother was born in Wales, and her paternal great-grandmother was born in Ireland.  On my mother’s maternal side, her great-great grandfather was born in Canada.

My Father (T.B.)

My father was the first in our family to take the Ancestry test back in 2014, and his ethnicity results were what we expected be based on the paper genealogy trail we had at the time:

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Here’s the thing with DNA tests: They are very much a Pandora’s box. They can be very helpful in confirming all of the paper trail research you’ve done and help find new relatives you didn’t know you had, but they can also reveal secrets and surprises.

And this is where things get complicated on my father’s side… Continue reading