Genetics Northern California

Your Family History

Many people wonder about their own chance of developing a disease such as cancer, diabetes or heart disease. If a close family member had a certain disease, does that mean you are likely to develop the same condition? 

We know that there are genes that can increase the risk for medical conditions and other genes that are protective. Everyone has at least a few genes that have the potential to cause disease.  By exploring your family history, you may be able to identify potential genetic risks in your family.

What Is A Family Tree?

  • The family medical tree is a visual picture of your family's medical and health history.
  • The family medical history is a tool for evaluating an individual's risk for disease.
  • When there is a family history of a disease, it may increase the risk for close family members to get that disease.
  • If you know you are at risk to get a disease, you may follow specific health recommendations for lowering your risk.

 How to Document Your Family Tree

Use the example at the bottom of the page to help you draw your own family tree.
  • Write your name at the top of your paper and the date you drew your family tree. Include your ethnic background.
  • See the standardized symbols. In place of the words father, mother etc., write the names of your family members.
  • When possible, draw your parents' brothers and sisters and your brothers and sisters, starting with the oldest to the youngest, going from left to right across the paper.
  •  Try to get as many medical details as possible including the specific names of diseases or disorders, locations of cancer, and the age the person was first diagnosed with a condition. Include habits of smoking, alcohol or drug use.
  • If a family member is deceased, record the age they died and the cause of death.

The Surgeon General has developed an online tool to help you document your family history: My Family Health Portrait 

Conditions to include when getting a family history: 

Birth defects


High blood pressure




Cancer (Include type)


High cholesterol






Respiratory disease



Intellectual Disability


Vision impairment

Hearing loss


Multiple miscarriages


Heart disease


Newborn/infant death

Sudden  death

You can use our Cancer History Form to gather specific information about cancer in your family.


Here's a sample family history: