How to Draw Genograms

by Lynn Holmgren ; Updated November 28, 2017

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 behavior. Genograms are commonly used in the fields of medicine, psychology, social work, genealogy, genetic research and education. If you want to know how to draw a genogram, the process simply involves a little research and knowledge of the basic genogram symbols.

Preparing the Genogram

Step 1

Determine the purpose of your genogram and decide how many generations you want to depict. You might opt to focus simply on familial relationships, or take it a step further and add detail on medical histories or other hereditary patterns.

Step 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.

Step 3

Gather all of your notes and materials together, either physically in a folder or electronically on a spreadsheet.

The Basic Layout

Step 1

Create a basic genogram template by starting with yourself and your immediate family members, including your parents and siblings.

Step 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.

Step 3

Denote partnered parents with a solid connecting line, with the father on the left, mother on the right.

Step 4

List children youngest to oldest, left to right. In this illustration, for example, Tom would be the youngest of the siblings, you ("Me") would be the middle child and Sue would be the oldest.

Step 5

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

Adding Detail

Step 1

Use color-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).

Step 2

Use color-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).

Step 3

Use color-coded lines to define social relationships (neighbor, boss, teacher etc.).

Items you will need

  • Notebook
  • Pencil
  • Poster board
  • Markers


  • 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.

Photo Credits

  • Mario Zavala

About the Author

Lynn Holmgren is a freelance writer based in York, Penn. She has published articles about writing, international exchange, travel and outdoor recreation in ShowcasePA! magazine and Homgren also enjoys writing and reviewing short stories on her blog Long Story Short.