How to draw genograms

Written by lynn holmgren
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A genogram is a pictorial representation of a family across several generations. While similar to a family tree, a genogram goes one step further, mapping out relationships and traits to help identify hereditary patterns and psychological factors that influence behaviour. Genograms are commonly used in the fields of medicine, psychology, social work, genealogy, genetic research and education. Drawing your own genogram simply involves a little research and knowledge of the basic genogram symbols.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Notebook
  • Pencil
  • Poster board
  • Markers

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  1. 1

    Determine the purpose of your genogram and decide how many generations you want to depict.

  2. 2

    Conduct some background research to get all of the information you need. Refer to a family tree for names and dates, or interview family members to fill in the missing details.

  3. 3

    Gather all of your notes and materials together.

  1. 1

    Start with yourself and your immediate family members.

  2. 2

    Use symbols to denote gender (male=square, female=circle), and have the date of birth (and date of death if applicable) above and the individual's name below. Indicate their current age inside of the symbol.

  3. 3

    Denote marriage with a solid connecting line; the father on the left, mother on the right.

  4. 4

    List children youngest to oldest, left to right.

  5. 5

    Add on extended family members as desired. Draw a shape around members of a shared household.

  1. 1

    Use colour-coded lines to define family relationships (i.e. dotted line to show an unmarried couple living together; divorce with a solid line with two slashes through it).

  2. 2

    Use colour-coded lines to define emotional relationships (i.e. abuse is shown with a jagged blue line, two people who are very close linked by two, straight, green lines).

  3. 3

    Use colour-coded lines to define social relationships (neighbour, boss, teacher etc).

Tips and warnings

  • There are quite a few variations on genogram symbols, so once you have chosen a symbol, be consistent throughout your genogram with it.
  • There is no limit to the type of data that can be included in a genogram, so feel free to interpret it for your own use.
  • If you want a more structured template, there are specifically designed computer programs for creating genograms, that can usually be downloaded for a fee.

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