Whenever two or more Santamours get together for the holidays, it doesn't take long before we're cracking each other up with the same silly family tales we've been telling for a lifetime now. I bet your clan is the same way. After all, holidays are meant for making and sharing the memories that bind.

The Department of Health & Human Services suggests adding something else to the conversational mix this year: a family health history. It's an idea you might want to suggest to your relatives and pass on to your patients, too.

True, Aunt Millie's rheumatism and Uncle Walter's COPD wouldn't make for the most scintillating dinner conversation, but there will be other, more appropriate, moments during your time together to take note of who's had what ailment and when. And that information could help your physicians take better care of you and your loved ones.

"A record of people's health conditions, and where they are in the family tree, can give doctors clues about possible inherited health problems," HHS HealthBeat blogger Nicholas Garlow wrote this summer.

It couldn't be easier. The Surgeon General's "My Family Health Portrait" is a free Internet-based tool that's simple to complete and creates a downloadable, private family tree. It provides a health history that can be shared among family members and sent to health care practitioners.

One helpful feature of the tool is "re-indexing." Say Cousin Pete fills out his health history and shares it with your sister Susie. Susie then can make herself the center of the online tree and it will automatically readjust the information to show its correct relationship to her. Then Susie can start her own personal family health history.

To get the ball rolling, you might want to designate a certain family member to collect the information from the relatives on hand and start his own "My Family Health Portrait" to share with everyone.

Could be just the job for that twenty-something who rolls his eyes whenever the aunts and uncles launch into yet another round of reminiscences. He can start right after he helps with the dishes.

Bill Santamour is managing editor of Hospitals & Health Networks. Follow our tweets at www.twitter.com/hhnmag.