Is Genealogy Dangerous to Your Health?

 Genealogy educator and author Thomas MacEntee recently lost more than 100 lbs in the past year. He shares his recent journey to better health despite the sedentary nature of genealogy and family history research!

Is Genealogy Dangerous to Your Health?

[Disclaimer: The following information is curated from various sources and is not to be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor or medical professional before embarking on any health improvement or exercise program.]

Genealogy research, by its very nature, is more a sedentary practice than not. Yes, there can be long walks through stacks of books and research materials as well as ambling through cemeteries and graveyards. However, with more and more resources available online, and the advent of genealogy mega sites, genealogists can easily succumb to routines that are not only unhealthy, but could make us ancestors before we know it.

My Own Unhealthy Experience – An Extra 150 Pounds

Almost one year ago, I was 150 lbs (70 kilos) overweight. My blood pressure was high, I was taking asthma medication, and I could barely walk a few feet without being out of breath or needing to sit down. After years of morbid obesity acquired through years of working at home and being in a parental caretaker role, I decided to do something about it.

I had lost over 100 lbs at one other point in my life. Back in the mid-1980’s, I was able to reduce from 265 lbs to 155 lbs mostly through diet changes and lots of exercise. Of course, back then I was commuting (walking) to work each day, I ran during lunch hour every day, lifted weights, did ballroom dancing and even ran 10k races. And I was in my late 20’s.

My experience with weight loss involved a much more drastic procedure: a stomach sleeve gastrectomy, which is a relatively new bariatric surgical procedure. After almost a year of preparation including psychiatric and nutritional counseling, I had 80% of my stomach removed in a laparoscopic operation. Now, almost ten months later, I have lost 100 lbs (45 kilos) and I am well on my way to losing 50 lbs more. Some may think this procedure is an easy way “out,” but to be honest it took lots of up-front work and now requires constant work dealing with new eating habits, etc. Within eight weeks of my surgery, I no longer needed my blood pressure or asthma medications and my cholesterol reading, which had never been below 200, was at a healthy 179!

Do I have regrets? The only regret I have is going too long without being more pro-active about my health. I think that if I had embarked on a serious health-improvement program 10 years ago, I could have taken a less invasive approach to losing weight and keeping it off.

You Are Not Alone

As I prepared for my surgery, during the process of keeping medical appointments, meeting with my nutritionist, etc., I decided to create a small, private group on Facebook where I could share my finds and my fears with fellow genealogists who also wanted to improve their health. The biggest revelation I had: what I was going through was not exclusive to me and I was not alone.

Through messages, shared stories and exchanged recipes, I was able to learn from those who had already succeeded in radically improving their health. In addition, I was able to help newcomers who had the same concerns and hesitations that I did over a year ago. The genealogy community has become defined by the willingness of its members to share resources and to “help out.” I soon discovered that such help was not limited to researching ancestors:

  • Melissa Barker, of Once Upon a Time Genealogy, is an archivist and genealogy professional who shared her recent experiences: “While I know that being sedentary in our genealogy researching and those of us that have made it our profession, I can also attest to health issues when you take on too much. That is what happened to me back in September 2015 when I spent the night in the hospital and had trouble with my blood pressure. The lesson is to pace yourself, make sure you are doing those things that are beneficial to you or mean something to you. Learn the word “NO” and use it! That has been the hardest for me.”
  • Genealogy Jen, a genealogist and genealogy blogger who runs the Repurposed Genealogy website, has struggled with health issues as well, and for her, as she says, “It’s all about choices. It is the phrase which is tossed around in my extended family all the time, especially when someone is bucking the family trend. When it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle as a genealogist, it still holds true. We are able to research the history and lives of our ancestors. Sometimes, it is up to us to choose to shift the family trend of an unhealthy lifestyle. I spend a lot of time at my desk. I write, research and correspond. Knowing that I spend a lot of sedentary time, I choose to start my mornings with movement. I run, lift weights or clean the house. (I try to avoid the last one as much as possible, even if it means running more. True story.) The movement is not only good for my body; it has the added benefit of helping me focus my thoughts and energy for the rest of the day. Exercise and movement are an important part of managing my ADD. I have also purchased wireless Bluetooth headphones to link to my smart phone. If I am talking to a client, I briskly pace up and down my driveway during our conversations. I have a built-in app on my smart phone to help me track my daily steps, glasses of water, and can log food consumption as well. I have set personal fitness goals like races to give me deadlines to work towards. I have tangible benchmarks in the process. Knowing I have a 10-mile trail run in July makes me less likely to skip a day when I don’t feel like running. I realize that I am younger than the stereotypical genealogist is. I believe that regardless of a person’s age or physical limitations, they can live a better quality of life and be healthier. It’s all about choices.”

Tips for the Healthy Genealogist

  • See a Doctor: I cannot emphasize this enough – even if the doctor is at a wellness center at the mall or during a neighborhood health fair. Seek out a qualified health professional and stop self-diagnosing using “Dr. Google” or sites like WebMD.
  • Set Reasonable Goals: I did not become overweight and out-of-shape overnight and neither did you. Just like with genealogy, there is no “easy button” to regaining your health. Develop a routine you can manage, use all the resources you need, and get help from family and friends.
  • Keep a Food Diary: I never believed this would work until I actually had to do it as part of my pre-op nutritional counseling. So guess who was eating 600 calories in a cereal bowl at one sitting?  Now, my entire day is just 600-700 calories! Also, consider using one of the many food and dieting apps to maintain a food diary.
  • Find a Fitness Buddy: While I have never been a fan of team sports and I prefer the “Zen like” qualities of working out alone, some people need the motivation provided by a fitness friend. Use your neighborhood network and friends to find someone who follows your same schedule and prefers the same types of exercise such as walking, hiking, or weightlifting.
  • Stop Snacking: My biggest temptation still is having a bowl of even fat-free pretzels available to pick at all day. Restrict eating to four or five small meals per day or three larger ones depending on recommendations from your health professional. “Grazing” is a good way to add those extra calories!
  • Stay Hydrated: Lack of hydration not only deters fat loss, but can also complicate joint pain from arthritis as well. Keep a “water diary” and have a water glass on your desk at all times. Also, avoid too much caffeine and alcohol intake, which tends to add to dehydration.
  • Get the Family Involved: There is nothing worse than living with family members who feel they do not need to diet or stay healthy. Try to get a “buy in” from your loved ones or roommates. Let them know your plans and goals and how they can help!
  • Organize a Work At Home Neighborhood Group: The issues you experience with working at home (besides the health issues) are likely experienced by other at-home workers. Check online to see if a group already exists (Meetup or Nextdoor are good resources) or form one!
  • Utilize a Workspace: More and more “workspace” offices and storefronts are popping up each month. For many, you pay a daily or monthly fee to use a work-friendly space outside the home.
  • Minimize Computer and Social Media Work Before Bed: Sleep is an important factor in good health (and this is coming from me, a lifelong insomniac). Over the past year, I have found that if I turn off the computer right before dinnertime and do not use it until the next morning, I can actually survive! In addition, there are studies that indicate use of mobile devices in bed can influence your sleeping rhythms especially due to the lighting used on such devices.
  • Treats Are Good: Total denial of your favorite foods will eventually work to your detriment and derail any diet. If moderation is a challenge for you (like it is for me), look for healthy substitutes . . . chocolate protein bar instead of a candy bar, low-fat Greek yogurt instead of rice pudding, etc.
  • Check Community Resources: Getting to the gym does not have to be expensive! Here in Chicago, the Chicago Park District has gyms available in each neighborhood at no cost or low cost, along with swimming pools and even organized league sports including dodgeball!

See the Bigger Picture

Do not focus on looks and how others will see you. Do not focus on shortcuts or easy ways out. Anything worth accomplishing is worth doing right and requires an investment. Our ancestors have always known this and through their hard work and perseverance, we are here right now to do genealogy and document their lives.

Make sure that you do not suddenly become an ancestor available for research. Take care of your health starting now!

© 2016, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

Photo credit: Bathroom scale, via Pixabay.

MyHeritage Launches New Community-Powered Q&A Hub

MyHeritage Community allows users to post requests for assistance with their family history research and receive help from the global 81-million-strong MyHeritage user community

[Editor’s Note: We just received the following information from MyHeritage – and the innovations just keep coming! Add this to last week’s announcement on Book Matching and you’ll see why more and more genealogists are using MyHeritage.

Don’t forget that you can still get 50% off MyHeritage annual Premium Plus AND the Data membership package through April 25th! Click here for more information.]

MyHeritage Launches New Community-Powered Q&A Hub

MyHeritage Community allows users to post requests for assistance with their family history research and receive help from the global 81-million-strong MyHeritage user community

TEL AVIV, Israel & LEHI, Utah, April 19, 2016 — MyHeritage, the fastest-growing destination for discovering, preserving and sharing family history, announced today the launch of MyHeritage Community, a new online Q&A hub that fosters family history research collaboration. MyHeritage Community is built as an image-oriented forum integrated into the website for users to help one another solve genealogical challenges, such as translating documents, deciphering handwritten letters, identifying unknown people in photos and searching for elusive ancestors.

With more than 81 million users around the world registered on MyHeritage and 42 languages supported, MyHeritage Community is uniquely positioned to serve as a meeting place for people trying to solve genealogical mysteries, and other people willing to help them. Users looking for assistance can post requests in the MyHeritage Community to get expert genealogy advice or benefit from native language expertise and local geographic familiarity. For example: a user in the United States with roots in Germany can post an image of an ancestor’s handwritten letter written in Kurrent — old German handwriting — and ask for help deciphering it. Another user from Germany can then translate it and add first-hand information on the town from which the letter was posted.

Volunteerism is an important value in the world of genealogy. Since the recent release of the MyHeritage Community, inspiring cases of users helping other users continue to surface. Examples include a user who posted a request for information on her relatives from a specific region in Italy and received pinpointed advice down to the address of the relevant office to contact; a user who asked for a translation of a church certificate from Portuguese to English and received a full translation and in-depth explanation of the purpose and origin of the document; plus many more.

“My definition of a genealogist is someone who — after consuming most research directions for his/her own family — helps other people research their family tree, just because he/she loves it so much,” said MyHeritage founder and CEO, Gilad Japhet. “Many genealogists are generous with their time and knowledge, and eager to help others explore their family history. The new MyHeritage Community allows people to help each other, making our service even more useful and effective.”

MyHeritage Community is free, and is accessible at 

About MyHeritage

MyHeritage is the world’s fastest-growing destination for discovering, preserving and sharing family history. As technology thought leaders, MyHeritage is transforming family history into an activity that’s accessible and instantly rewarding. Its global user community enjoys access to a massive library of historical records, the most internationally diverse collection of family trees and ground­breaking search and matching technologies. Trusted by millions of families, MyHeritage provides an easy way to share family stories, past and present, and treasure them for generations to come. MyHeritage is available in 42 languages.

MyHeritage Releases Exclusive Book Matching Technology for Family History

Genealogy educator and author Thomas MacEntee shares his feedback on the new Book Matching feature at MyHeritage.

Can I tell you how excited I am about this new Book Matching feature at MyHeritage? One of my “go to” sources is MyHeritage and it just got way better with some new features. I’ve been relying more and more on MyHeritage for my genealogy research as well as to share my family tree with other users. MyHeritage “gets it” and they are constantly innovating to make sure I succeed in my research. I do more than just “get by” . . . I actually succeed with real results.

What is Book Matching Technology?

Here is the basic information about the new Book Matching feature at MyHeritage:

Book Matching is exclusive to MyHeritage. It uses full semantic text analysis to compare books with family trees, bringing you relevant excerpts when it finds narrative describing people in your family tree, with extremely high accuracy.

Book Matching brings you exciting new information about your family that you may not have found anywhere else, allowing you to expand your family tree and add more information to family tree profiles.

Example: Herbert Edward Rankin

Here is how the new Book Matching feature has helped me with research on my 5th cousin 4 times removed, Herbert Edward Rankin. He was born 15 April 1887 in Albany, New York. In MyHeritage, I went to my Record Matches and then looked at the Compilation of Published Sources.

MyHeritage Book Matching for Herbert Edward Rankin

I was able to sort the results by name as well as by confidence level. I’ve been doing more work on my Rankin and Putman lines lately so when I saw Herbert Edward Rankin show up, I realized I was unaware of the fact that he attended Phillips Academy in 1905. Once I opened the record, Pot Pourri, Phillips Academy, 1905 (this is a yearbook for the Academy), I was able to see the following text:

MyHeritage Book Matching for Herbert Edward Rankin

Herbert Edward Rankin.  A native of Albany, N. Y., was born April 15, 1887. He is a son of E. W. Rankin, a lawyer, and will go to Princeton.

So now I have another verification of his birth date as well as where he went to school. A nice feature of the records in the Compilation of Published Sources is the bibliographic info at the end to help me write a source citation:

MyHeritage Book Matching for Herbert Edward Rankin

I can save the image from the book and store it in my Resource Images folder in Dropbox, then review the match and mark it off in MyHeritage. I also enter my “find” in my research log and evaluate the information in terms of evidence type, information type, etc.

Example: John C. Doig

John C. Doig, born in Lowville, New York, on 15 May 1820, is one of my collateral relatives, being the brother-in-law of my 1st cousin 6 times removed (Hiram Austin, 1819-1903). I know that the Doig family was fairly prominent in Lewis County, New York, yet I didn’t have much information on John.

MyHeritage Book Matching for John C. Doig

Book Matching on MyHeritage was able to locate an extensive biography in History of Lewis County, New York: With illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers, published 1883.

Talk about lots of new information? Not only do I get a drawing of John C. Doig, but I also get information on his marriage, his children and more.

MyHeritage Book Matching for John C. Doig

Now if I just had some more hours in the day to go through the backlog of record matches on MyHeritage. And Book Matching has really bumped up those numbers so I have my work cut out for me!

Why Book Matching Is Innovative and Important

Indeed, many of the sources that are referenced in Book Matching are available for free on Google Books or at Internet Archive. But those sites won’t notify you of text that matches people in your family tree. And as new sources come online and are added to the Compilation of Published Sources, you’ll receive new notifications of matches. This is a new collection with 450,000 digitized historical books!

Most of these books are available online and they can be searched manually for free (on MyHeritage as well as other sites). However, MyHeritage will automatically research hundreds of thousands of books for you, continuously, for your ancestors and relatives. You will be notified of precise matches based on matching facts, so you won’t waste any time on futile manual searches, looking at false positives and sifting through thousands of wrong results. This could save you years of searching since it is all done automatically, and repeated any time you add more people to your tree, or when MyHeritage adds more books. It will really find matches that you won’t find on your own and you only get good matches. So, you work “smarter” and your time is spent on reviewing good stuff, rather than endlessly searching for it.

I call these “alert” features a way of doing genealogy researching while I sleep! MyHeritage’s Book Matching as well as Record Matches and Smart Matches save me time and are a valuable part of my genealogy research toolbox.

And how many new matches did I get recently on my tree at MyHeritage? A total of 1,269 for a tree with 7,685 people. I guess I have a big review project coming up this weekend . . . and I can’t wait to see what I find? What will you find with the new Book Matching at MyHeritage?

Stay Tuned for a Special Offer from MyHeritage

You can get access to Book Matching and all the great features of MyHeritage for a great price. Stay tuned here at GeneaBloggers for more information.

©2016, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.