Genetics Northern California

Your Family History

Gathering your family history could help you discover conditions that run in the family and learn about steps to take that may lower your risk.

What is a family tree?

  • A family tree is a picture of your family's medical and health history.
  • The information can be used to predict your risk for health problems.
  • Your risk may be higher when you have several close family members with the same health problem. 

How to create your own 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 the paper and the date you drew your family tree. Include your ethnic background.
  • Use the symbols to show each person in the family. Include the names of your family members by the symbols. 
  • When possible, start by drawing the oldest sibling (brother or sister) on the left, moving to the youngest sibling on the right. 
  • Try to include as many medical details as possible: exact names of diseases or disorders; original sites of cancer; the age a person was first diagnosed. Include habits of smoking, alcohol or drug use.
  • Write the age and cause of death for any family member who has died. 

The Surgeon General has a tool to help you collect your family history: My Family Health Portrait 

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

Here are some examples of conditions to include in 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

 Here's a sample family history: