Ancestry.com, the genealogy behemoth, has entered the health field — sort of. AncestryHealth (AH), a beta foray, helps you document your family’s medical conditions. To start, you build a family tree of your blood relations. Unlike a typical family tree, it only lists those who’re your biological relations. So, your spouse is out, but your kids are in. However, your grandchildren, for some reason, aren’t tracked.
To show how AH works, I built a tree for King Agamemnon and his family. At top of the Agamemnon’s chart are his four grandparents, Pelops, etc. Below them are his parents. On Agamemnon’s level is his brother Menelaus, whose wife caused some marital stress.
Chart Building. AH’s heart is its family member entry screens. First, you add the member, for example, a daughter then her conditions. You could also build the chart and then enter conditions.
Adding a person’s health conditions is a simple, top down process. When you select someone, AH brings up its basic conditions menu. It has five general categories: Heart, Cancer, Lung, Brain or Metabolism. If those don’t make it, a click brings up 13 more: Muscle, Autoimmune, etc., or you can add your own. Unlike EHRs, etc., AH is strictly for recording health conditions not their treatments. You can note, for example, your mother’s osteoarthritis, but not what she takes for it.
When you’ve picked general categories, you can leave it at that. For example, if you knew Aunt Agatha had allergies, but not much more about her, you’d be done. You can add as many general categories as you like to any one person.
To add more detail, you select the person and then you can add both medical and lifestyle details. Again, you can use AH’s choices or add your own.
When you’re done, you use the family tree to see everyone or just those with a specific condition. For example, you’d see the relationship, if any, of everyone who has or had heart disease. Finally, you can download a summary of all your family’s conditions.
As with any beta program, some of AH parts are less finely developed than others. Many of the problems were with the member entry screen. For example, if a person has two first names, such as, Mary Beth she’ll show up as Mary.
Once the member’s on the chart, you have to edit their entry to add a last name and living status. I don’t know why this isn’t done with a single entry screen instead of two screens.
If you do add a last name, it doesn’t show on the tree. That means if you have two Great Uncle Davids, you’ll have to open the record to make sure you have the right one. It would also be helpful if the member screen had an Unknown Name box.
Similar to Facebook, you can’t use titles, such as Dr., Ms., etc. However, if you leave out the period, it’s accepted. Nor can you add, MD, PhD, etc., unless you omit the comma after their last name.
Lost Child. AH gives you both an on screen graphic and a printed health summary. The graphic lets you click on a person’s icon – though their names don’t show – and see the detail.
In one case, Electra’s icon disappeared. Given the family’s way of settling their issues, I wasn’t too surprised.
AH’s Big Sibling Connection
If you have an Ancestry account, you can use it to log into AH. You can also create one for AH. When you create a new AH account, one is also opened for you in Ancestry.com, whether you want it or not. For example, using a Gmail address I created the Agamemnon family tree. That login is now part of Ancestry.com. I can’t think of a system that opens an account for you in another system.
If you do use your Ancestry.com account for AH, any change you make in your AH family tree changes your Ancestry.com tree as well. You can avoid this if you make a private copy of your Ancestry.com tree. AH should offer to do this without your going to Ancestry.com, etc.
That’s not the end of it. When I needed to change the spelling for one of the persons on my AH chart, I found all entries were locked. I could only change someone’s conditions, or add a new person. However, I could not edit anyone’s name, etc., nor could I remove someone. To edit, I had to go to Ancestry.com’s Agamemnon family tree, which has a far different interface. Apparently, this occurs if you’re logged into the same Ancestry.com site. Wading through all of this was like trying to figure out Abbot and Costello’s Who’s on First, but not as much fun.
Sorta Informed Consent. AH shares your family conditions, less any personally identifiable information, with health researchers, etc. I don’t object to their doing that and it has significant potential. AH posts a long Informed Consent note about their sharing family information. However, AH puts this where it’s unlikely to be read. It’s a link at the bottom of each page along with Terms and Conditions, etc. Given its importance, it deserves higher billing.
It is a Beta. AH is a work in progress by the major, family genealogical site. During its beta, AH is free and AH is interested in its reception. It wants comments on adding functions, such as, AncestryDNA data, or risk analysis tools. Its family condition documentation may prove quite valuable to you and possibly to medical researchers.
AH’s Family Condition
AH needs to fix several design flaws and eliminate some obvious bugs. It needs to do a far better job of letting you know what it does with your data. Most importantly, it needs to sort out and clear up its various, functional relationships with Ancestry.com. You might call it an Ancestry family condition.