Monday, May 2, 2011

Following genetic conditions through your family tree

I am the perfect person to speak on this subject, because I can follow so many of my family's inherited genetic famililial conditions for generations.
For the most part, they are not serious illnesses, but some are quite interesting.
But this will take some time to put together, especially as I am also busy reading the publishers' editor's copy of the manuscript, and searching in the BC Archives for photographs to fill holes in the manuscript.
So I will take a few weeks to do this posting, I think, but I think it will be interesting.
Some of you will be able to search for genetic diseases through your family tree, too.

On this subject, there is a relatively new book out that covers the diseases -- infectious or otherwise -- that were introduced into the Native population by the fur traders.
The author of the book is Robert Boyd, and the book is called The Coming of the Spirit of Pestilence: Introduced Infectious Diseases and Population Decline among Northwest Coast Indians, 1774-1874 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1999)
In spite of having a title that appears to limit the spread of disease to the Northwest Coast Natives, the book covers many other infectious diseases amongst the fur trade and Native population in the Columbia River district.
An interesting point for some of you: John Work's expeditions into the interior in 1831-32 carried Fort Vancouver's "intermittent fever" (malaria) into the interior.
Four of his men were sick when they left Fort Vancouver; two more became ill as they passed through the Cascades, and upstream of the Dalles another man fell sick.
These fur traders did not understand that malaria was contagious; they blamed its presence on the "putrid exhalations and penetrating damps which issue from stagnant water left in the neighoring swamps when the river overflows its banks at the height of the season...."
(Source: Boyd's, "The Coming of the Spirit of Pestilence..." Note, p.94)

Among the diseases found in the North American Indian population before white men came were: Food poisoning, intestinal parasites, hepatitis, viral pneumonia, tuberculosis, nonvenereal syphilis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Diseases introduced by fur traders and others were: Smallpox, Malaria, Measles, Typhus, Bubonic plague, Cholera, Chickenpox, and Polio.
Now that's a scary list.
I am, of course, looking at the measles epidemic of 1847-48, but tuberculosis will interest me -- as many of the Birnie daughters appeared to die of this disease.
I have an alternate theory to offer....

I will also be commenting on the 1830-31 malaria epidemic around Fort Vancouver, as James Birnie, John McLoughlin, and botanist David Douglas were the three men who "doctored" the many infected people at Fort Vancouver at that time.
So, please give me some time to do all the work I have to do right now, and I will work on this posting in whatever spare time I have.
Thanks for your patience.

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