I came across this site about a week ago called My Family Health Portrait. It is provided by the Surgeon General of the United States, and, as you might guess by the name, it allows you to create a health history for your family. It is available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese(?). My only complaint is that it is an online tool, with no software to download that I could find.
It did get me thinking that creating a family health history is a good thing. We have no doubt all come across patterns of disease in our families (if you haven't you may not be looking hard enough). In my own particular family I have found three different things. The first is from personal experience - both my father and his father died of respiratory cancer. Seeing as they were both heavy smokers we can guess what the cause of that was.
I don't smoke.
The second is that my great uncle and one of his descendants both died from ALS.
The third goes all the way back to one of the earliest official records of my line, Philip Halls death certificate from 1846, which states that he died from apoplexy. Now apoplexy, as used in the mid 1800's usually meant a sudden and catastrophic death from some sort of internal cause, for example a heart attack or a stroke. In the case of Philip I strongly suspect his apoplexy was actually a massive stroke. The reason I suspect it is because his grandson Samuel Pollard Halls also died from a stroke. Sadly, Samuel did not die as quickly as his grandfather. He lingered for a month after his stroke before dying.
Recent studies have indicated that knowing the medical history of both sides of your family is a very good idea. For example, it has been found that the risk of breast cancer on the father's side affects the risk of breast cancer in the daughter, which was not thought to be the case.
So don't ignore those little snippets of information. Find out what various family members died of, and if possible find out at what age they were first diagnosed with the condition that they had. Knowing this might allow you, or your children, or other family members, to avoid the same fate.