Anybody who has arrived early in a doctor's office to complete requisite paperwork before that first consultation will be able to relate to what I'm going to discuss today. Remember all those questions about which diseases you've suffered through—or hardly remember having? The questions which push farther back to the ailments of ancestors might be enough to make one wish there was a way to merge medical history with a pedigree chart. And that's what got me started in genealogy—with the Bean family tree, that is.
While some people might worry about high cholesterol leading to a massive heart attack or stroke—just like dear old dad—someone in the Bean family had passed along a medical inheritance just as deadly, but not as well known. I didn't even need to draw up a pedigree chart to see how far that genetic tendency had spread in this family. Though Marilyn Sowle Bean—last keeper of the family photos rescued from a local antique store—didn't suffer from the ailment herself, her husband, his brother, and several others on the maternal side of that Bean family were struck dead in their early adulthood. Or, surviving beyond that age, they suffered so much, they wish they had been.
That tragic legacy became part of the family's story. To learn the Bean family history was to learn about Marfan Syndrome and its hallmark sign—in this family, at least—of elongated limbs and exceptional height. On the human side of the story, that meant a great deal of loss for all those who married into that family line, Marilyn included. On a more technical side—at least for a genealogy researcher like me—I wondered whether I could pinpoint the family line to which the syndrome could be attributed, or even if, going back through history, it would be possible to trace such a tendency.
There are, of course, special symbols which can be included in a medically-oriented pedigree chart, such as this example from a 2008 publication by Genetic Alliance shared on the website of the National Center for Biotechnology Information. While I could use such an approach in tracing the family members afflicted with Marfan Syndrome, my question slanted more toward the genealogy than the genetic. I want to see if I could follow the correct family line through several more generations.
To do that means first to focus on the relatives in this family whom I once knew personally: Marilyn's nephews on her mother-in-law's side of the family, the Woodworths.