Friday, February 17, 2012

Follow Friday: National Library of Medicine and Your Ancestors

The U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) National Institutes of Health (NIH) is my one of my top go-to resources for current day health questions.  Their url is the one I'll choose from the hundreds of results from a health-related search term/phrase in Google.  I was recently reminded on the National Genealogical Society's blog that the NLM can also be a helpful resource for family history research. 

Under "Explore the NLM" there is a link to the History of Medicine.  Looking further, the links break down as follows: 

Historical Collections
  • Books and Journals: NLM pre-1914 books and serials, pre-1871 journals, and pamphlets and dissertations
  • Archives and Manuscripts: archive and modern manuscript collections and Western and Islamic manuscripts, from the 11th century to the present
  • Prints and Photographs: images illustrating the social and historical aspects of medicine
  • Films and Videos: films and video recordings documenting the history of medicine
  • Digital Resources: selected digitized material from NLM historical collections, covering a spectrum of centuries and cultures
Using the Collections
  • Online Catalogs: online resources for searching NLM historical material
  • Printed Catalogs and Guides: printed catalogs and guides to historical material
  • Reference Services and Information: information about locating and using material in NLM historical collections
Archives, Manuscripts and Reference Services.  Hmm. My great-great grandfather served in the Civil War.  According to his voluminous pension file and that of his widow, both of which I have, his diagnosis was "acute rheumatisn and disease of the heart"  Very interesting.  I have a chronic medical condition called rheumatoid arthritis. The disease may have a genetic link but fortunately no other current day family member has it.  Could there be a medical link to an ancestor?  To find out the history of the term 'rheumatism' I did a search using "rheumatism AND civil war". Here is the result: 

Arthritis Rheum. 1991 Sep;34(9):1197-203. Rheumatic diseases among Civil War troops. [emphasis added] Bollet AJ. Source: Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut.
Abstract: There are extensive existing medical records of Federal Civil War troops. More than 160,000 cases of "acute rheumatism" occurred among these soldiers, and acute rheumatic fever was known to be the main cause. Infectious arthritides were frequent but not understood; gout was rare. "Chronic rheumatism" was diagnosed more than 246,000 times; prolonged rheumatic fever and reactive arthritis following dysentery were probably the major causes. Over 12,000 soldiers were discharged because of chronic rheumatism, many with "lumbago," which was probably spondylarthropathy.  PMID: 1930338 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
This "hit" looks promising for a start.  I'm sure there are more results to mine on the History of Medicine website.  Give it a try.  You may be able to clarify the history of a medical term or condition discovered during your family research. Good luck!

Follow Friday is one of several blogging prompts suggested on Geneabloggers.  If you have a tip, a resource or a special ancestor story, please share it with other readers.  Send it to and we will post it here.

posted by Denise Hibsch Richmond

1 comment:

  1. Great suggestion. Many times I've across a medical diagnosis in old records or newspapers and need a definition. This will be a good resource. Thanks!


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