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RX for Your Roots
Got a bad case of research block? Cure what ails your ancestor search with our guide to finding genealogical clues in old medical records.

A visit to the doctor or a stay in the hospital wasn't as common for our ancestors as it is for us today. But back then, it had nothing to do with getting HMOs to pay for care or the rising cost of prescriptions. In our ancestors' day, a doctor was sometimes your worst enemy. After all, prior to the early 20th century, you might be treated with blood-sucking leeches to drain you of poisons, nasty concoctions that caused severe vomiting or diarrhea to purge your system, or ice-water baths to rid you of fevers or treat hysteria. Morphine was dispensed as a medicine, and surgery was performed with little or no anesthesia. (And you thought a mammogram or proctology exam was torture!)

But just like today, when our ancestors did dare to seek medical treatment — or had no other choice — those not-so-routine visits generated paperwork. These ancestral medical records can reveal not only vital information about your family health history, but also basic genealogical facts. Indeed, they may be just what the doctor ordered to break through the brick walls blocking your research.

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