My family is remarkably healthy and long-lived. My Baban (grandmother) and great-Baban on my mother's side both had dementia and lived to their 80s-90s in spite of it, much to the concern of my mom. (I assure her that mental fitness decreases the risk of developing Alzheimer's.) Other than that, my family has not had to go through any ordeals with cancer, mental illness, diabetes, heart attacks or anything like that.
Perhaps the talk about family history came up with a physician when discussing risk factors for cancer or heart disease in a visit you've had. Sometimes MDs will even take the time to do an in-depth family tree, tracing back lineages using as much detail as possible to explore genetic, and acquired multifactorial diseases, with an exhaustive list of things including, but not limited to:
* Cancer(via Mayo Clinic's Medical History page)
* Heart disease
* Mental illness
* High blood pressure
* High cholesterol
* Kidney disease
* Alcoholism or other substance abuse
* Birth defects
* Vision loss
* Hearing loss
* Learning disabilities
* Mental retardation
* Miscarriages or stillbirths
Hear more clinical information with this mp3 about Family Health Portrait
or visit MedlinePlus.gov for more information about Family History, including a handout to print out and use when talking with your family.
Surgeon General's tool for creating a Family Health Portrait.
It's a little slow to load, but its thorough (and you can email it to family members to fill in the blanks!)
(via AP, hat tip to sandybeach)