Medical histories useful for genealogy

Posted Feb. 08, 2009, at 8:38 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 10:43 a.m.

This week, let’s look at the Maine Web site for the state Office of Vital Records. It’s at www.maine.gov/dhhs/bohodr/ovrpage.htm.

Perhaps you noticed it’s the same address we listed last week for “Adult Adoptee Access to Original Birth Certificate Rules and Forms.”

Isn’t it handy when one site will give us access to information on several things? And often, some of these things can be used for more than one purpose.

Under the Adoptee Rules and Forms, you’ll find a Medical History Form which you can look at — and print — in Word or PDF formats.

The purpose of the form is to allow a birth parent to submit an updated medical history, which the state can make available if the adoptee requests it.

But it’s also a wonderful idea for all of us to fill one out so we can give copies to our children, and perhaps cousins who share grandparents or other ancestors with us.

The form is a four-page checklist of conditions in several categories: respiratory, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, immune and hematological, renal, liver disease, central nervous system, endocrine, muscular and skeletal, neuromuscular, visual and auditory, and other conditions such as mental illness. Keep in mind that that category could include Alzheimer’s disease and senile dementia.

Other sections of the form include drug and alcohol use during pregnancy, and whether the mother had prenatal care.

I hope that those who placed a child for adoption will think about filling out a medical history form for the state to have in case the child requests it. Think how helpful it could be for a person to be able to tell his or her physician if there is a family history of breast cancer, glaucoma, osteoporosis or heart disease.

An extra page in the Medical History Form gives space for a parent to list characteristics such as hair and eye color, height, ethnic background, blood type and Rh factor.

If your children grew up with both parents, you may think, “Well, they know how tall I am!” Maybe so, but think of this form, filled out, sitting in a drawer where some descendant might discover it 50 years from now. It could be a treasure.

I’m fortunate to have death certificates with health information on several of my ancestors, but they don’t tell you everything that might interest you.

Last year, one of my cousins from Greenville called me up to chat about my great-great-grandmother Mary (Cummings) Bennett Lord.

He went on to talk about Ga’s remarkable blue eyes, of which I had no memory. Nobody had ever mentioned to me that Ga had blue eyes!

I went back to look at some photos of her, and what do you know, one of those black-and-white pictures does show that her eyes were much lighter than my brown ones.

I might add that the Web site for the Office of Vital Records also offers a “Contact Preference Form for Birth Parents of Adopted Children.”

And yes, the Web site includes the “Application for Copy of Non-Certified Original Birth Certificate.” An adoptee who applies for an original birth certificate must submit an application, which must be notarized, and include a certified copy of the birth record — the one that gives the adopted name of the child and the names of the adoptive parents.

Though I’ve made reference to the new law allowing Maine adoptees to obtain their original birth records for three weeks now, I’m not any kind of an expert on adoption records.

Recently I was asked about researching a record when a person was adopted in Maine but not born here. That’s a question for the Office of Vital Records, an attorney or both.

Frequently I’m asked about municipalities, which may vary from town to town in how much access they grant to a genealogist. My understanding is that a town or city office provides a certified copy of a record if they have it. They don’t have to let researchers browse the birth records.

But many records are available to the public in other ways. Birth, marriage and death records for 1892-1955 are on microfilm at the Maine State Archives in Augusta and in the Government Documents room at Fogler Library, University of Maine, Orono, among other libraries. They are organized by year, then by surname, and you can look at them free.

For records before 1892, check the archives in Augusta for town records on microfilm.

Ellsworth Public Library has town records before 1892 for Hancock County.

If you do go to a town or the state to purchase a birth, marriage or death record, be sure to ask for a certified copy of the whole record — not an abstract.

The Office of Vital Records in Augusta is at 244 Water St.

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