How to create free genograms

Updated February 21, 2017

Genograms are like family tree diagrams but much more complex. They may include a variety of components like the occupations of family members, severed relationships and close friends. Family therapists, physicians, career counsellors or those deeply interested in their family history create genograms. Create a genogram to understand your family's medical history or to create a family bonding experience. Continuously add detail to your genogram as you learn more about family members.

Decide what you would like your genogram to focus on. You can centre on the jobs that all your family members have had for career counselling purposes or general interest. Some genograms include all relationships, simple and complex, such as marriages, divorces and common law relationships, adoptions, miscarriages, and close friends. Perhaps you would like to focus on your family's mental or physical illnesses. Some genograms even detail personality traits, hobbies and relationships that were both amicable and conflicted. You can make the genogram as detailed or as simple as you like.

Talk to family members who are still alive and ask questions related to the focus of your genogram. Discuss dates of birth and death, sibling positions (eldest to youngest), occupations, hobbies, divorces, remarriages, illnesses and other details. To find out more information about those who are deceased, visit the public archives, look at old newspaper clippings, books that may have been published and other resources. Take detailed notes and keep them all together in a journal.

Start working on your genogram. You can use a template as a guide, such as the one offered by Interdisciplinary Family Health. You can create one by hand or use an online program, like Family Tree Builder, Smart Draw and GenoPro, that offers free trial usage. You can also create one in your word processing or spreadsheet program by using the "Draw" toolbar. Generally, males are denoted by squares and females are denoted by circles. Members of the same generation should be at the same horizontal level within the chart. The oldest generation goes at the top of the chart and the youngest at the bottom. Connect persons who are married or in a romantic relationship with a horizontal line. Children are connected to their parents via vertical lines.

Decide on symbols, colours or words you will use to indicate other aspects of the genogram. For a medical genogram, Genealogy Today explains that an "X" through a circle or square means that person has died; a dot in the centre signifies a carrier for a disease, and a shaded in circle or square means that person is affected with the disease. You can even add more detail by using initials or abbreviations to denote what kind of illness the person is affected with. Interdisciplinary Family Health says that a dotted vertical line could signify an adopted child and a crossed-out horizontal line a divorce. Scribd goes so far as to say two and three horizontal lines represent close and very close relationships and friendships, whereas zigzag lines represent conflicted ties. Develop your own personal scheme for personality traits, occupations and other details.

Prepare several rough drafts before completing a final copy, especially if you are creating the genogram by hand. Include a legend to explain what all of your line types, initials, colours and symbols mean. Use footnotes if you have lengthy descriptions to include.

Things You'll Need

  • Genogram template
  • Books on your family (or other research material)
  • Journal to record findings
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About the Author

Michelle Brunet has published articles in newspapers and magazines such as "The Coast," "Our Children," "Arts East," "Halifax Magazine" and "Atlantic Books Today." She earned a Bachelor of Science in environmental studies from Saint Mary's University and a Bachelor of Education from Lakehead University.