Growing up, I always wondered about my family tree. Who were my parents or grandparents really and how did their experiences shape my life?
If only I had known genograms can help answer these questions. Think of genograms as family trees that reveal detailed information about different family members.
But creating genograms can get really technical. You have to know how to visualize information like marriage, medical history and behaviors with lines and symbols.
Click to jump ahead:
- Step 1: Figure out why you need a genogram
- Step 2: Gather the data
- Step 3: Create the initial structure
- Step 4: Add symbols and lines
- Step 5: Update your genogram
- Step 6: Use Venngage to create genograms
- Step 7: Share your genogram with the world
Step 1: Figure out why you need a genogram
Before you jump into building, first figure out what information or insights you want from a genogram diagram. This ensures you don’t waste time on unnecessary details.
For example, let’s say you want to visualize hereditary patterns of illness in your family to see if you’re at risk of diabetes, leukemia, cancer, or even stroke.
In this case, you’ll need a medical genogram.
Here’s a great example of a genogram that tracks the prevalence of cancer.
Generally, for a medical genogram to be effective, it should include at least three generations.
But let’s say you want an overview of your family’s social dynamics. Will a medical genogram work? Not really. In this case, you’ll want a family genogram.
Here’s how your genogram might look in this scenario:
Notice how the focus and the type of information it highlights is different compared to a medical genogram?
Here are five common types of genograms you can create:
- Family genograms
- Medical genograms
- Psychological genograms
- Cultural genograms
- Social genograms
Step 2: Gather the data
Now that you know what type of genogram to create (family relationship genogram vs some other type), it’s time to start collecting the data.
This can seem daunting. I mean it’s one thing to collect names, birthdays, relationships and medical history but another to get personal and sensitive information.
You’ll need to be interviewing family members to find details on emotional relationships and/or mental illness. If you’re unsure how to approach family, consult a personal counselor or anyone else you think can help you.
But what if talking to family doesn’t yield enough information? Well, it’s time to put on your detective hat!
Consider checking out your area’s public records. You’ll be surprised by how much information you can uncover about your family in the archives.
Once you have the data, here’s a trick you can use to organize it
Use infographics! They can help you summarize information in a visually appealing format. For example, you can use this medical infographic to summarize information about people in your family:
Note: You don’t always have to use a medical infographic to visually organize information. There are several types of infographics you can use. Venngage has thousands of free infographic templates you can edit and customize for free!
Some of our infographic templates are free to use and some require a small monthly fee. Sign-up is always free, as is access to Venngage’s online drag-and-drop editor.
Check out our other blogs to learn more about infographics:
- What is an Infographic? Examples, Templates & Design Tips
- How to Make an Infographic in 5 Easy Steps — Fast (2024 Guide)
- What Are the 9 Types of Infographics? (+Infographic Templates)
Step 3: Create the initial structure
A genogram features basic symbols to represent family members and family relationships.
How many generations should there be in a genogram? At least three and these include:
- Generation 1: Grandparents and their siblings
- Generation 2: Parents and their siblings
- Generation 3: Yourself (and your wife), siblings, cousins
Think of this as the ‘skeleton’ of your genogram. Each generation should occupy a different level on the horizontal pane of a page.
Start off your genogram by first writing the names of your family members in their relevant position.
You have several options. You can do this manually by hand, purchase a genogram creator software to draw the outline, or edit a free genogram template (hint: Venngage has many free genogram templates!).
Once complete, your work-in-progress genogram might look something like this:
Don’t worry if it doesn’t yet (I’ll show you how to add lines and shapes soon).
Once you have the names listed, it’s time to add genogram symbols and lines to visualize relationships.
Step 4: Add symbols and lines
In genograms, individuals are represented by family relationship symbols while lines reveal emotional and social relationships.
Here are genogram symbols you need to know:
- Gender symbols
- Relationship lines
- Social connections symbols
Basic genogram symbols
Squares and circles are the most prominent symbols in a genogram.
Traditionally, a square represents males while a circle indicates female. However, modern genograms are inclusive and allow for representation of several identities.
For example, you can use a square with rounded corners or a circle with a small square to represent a person who identifies as neither male or female.
Here are some other symbols you should be aware of:
A genogram without lines is like a tree without branches. Lines in a genogram provide relational context.
Without lines, a genogram would simply be a collection of disconnected symbols making it almost impossible to understand family structures, relationships, and patterns.
Here some some essential lines you need to know:
- Marriage = A line connecting a square and a circle horizontally.
- Divorce = A break in a horizontal line connecting a square and circle.
- Children = A vertical line dropping from the marriage line to a symbol below. If the line appears dashed, it can indicate non-biological parenthood.
- Siblings = A horizontal line between individuals at the same generational level. Variations in the line can illustrate full, half, step, or adopted sibling relationships.
Social genogram symbols
After establishing how family members relate to each other, you can use symbols to denote life events.
Here are some ways you can do this:
- Death = A square with a cross on an individual’s gender symbol.
- Pregnancy = A triangle. If the triangle is empty, it might indicate a miscarriage or abortion.
- End of an event = A sash through a symbol. This indicates the end of an event, such as the end of a relationship.
Using the information I’ve shared so far will help you create a basic genogram.
But what if you want to go beyond and also indicate medical conditions? You’ll need some understanding of advanced lines and symbols.
When creating a medical genogram, you’ll need a way to convey information on health conditions, traits, or diseases.
Here are some strategies you can use:
- Color coding
Different colors can represent various conditions. For instance, red can represent heart-related conditions, green mental health issues and blue might indicate diabetes.
- Symbols within symbols
Specific symbols inside standard gender symbols can also communicate health conditions.
For example, a heart within a symbol can signify cardiovascular diseases while a brain symbol might communicate neurological disorder.
Full shading can denote an individual affected by a specific condition compared to half shading which could represent a carrier of a genetic trait or condition.
Step 5: Update your genogram
Time is never constant and neither should your genogram.
As family relationships evolve and you learn more about other family members, make sure your genogram has up to date information to keep it accurate and relevant.
You can update genograms on an event by event basis or every few months. But if you don’t have the time, do update it at least once a year.
Think it’ll be a chore or time-consuming to update your genogram?
I can understand. What may seem like a small change initially can actually end up requiring multiple changes.
This is why you should use Venngage to create and manage genograms.
With a user-friendly interface, Venngage simplifies the process of adding or modifying symbols and lines. Just point, drag, and replace items as you need in a few clicks to keep your genogram updated.
Don’t believe me? Let’s pretend this was your original genogram. It shows a very close relationship (horizontal purple line) between two people in the second generation.
Now, let’s say both become estranged. Here’s how the genogram looks after I update it.
With Venngage, I was able to select the purple line, delete it, add the new shape and drag it in place all in a few clicks.
Step 6: Use Venngage to create genograms
Researching family history and gathering each person’s details is already hard work. And when you add having to learn specialized software to make a genogram on top, it’s easy to get demotivated.
Venngage is an easy to use design tool that even a beginner or a non-designer user can use to create genograms.
Step 1 – Login or create your Venngage account (it’s free!)
Log into your Venngage account or create a new account if you don’t already have one. This will give you access to all the tools and resources you need to create your genogram.
Step 2 – Head over to “Templates” and choose “Diagrams” and then “Genogram”
Next, go to Venngage’s “Templates” page and select the “Diagrams” category on the left. This will give you a list of different diagram types, including genogram diagrams.
Step 3 – Customize your genogram using symbols and colors
Once you’ve picked a template you like, you can start customizing it. Add your own symbols and colors or move elements around on the canvas and change the fonts and text to match your brand or style.
For example, let’s pretend I want to change the symbol that represents marriage.
All I have to do is select a symbol, click replace, and add something I like.
When you sign up for Venngage, you’ll get access to our in-editor library of thousands of free, professional icons, plus diverse icons. You’ll never have to leave the tool to find images elsewhere!
Step 4 – Download your genogram
Once you’re happy with your genogram, you can share it online or download it as a PDF or PNG with Venngage.
Note: Only users who upgrade to a Business plan can download their genograms.
If you sign up for a Business plan, you’ll also get access to My Brand Kit. This feature lets you apply your brand colors to any template with one click.
For example, you can make your genogram reflect your brand design by uploading your brand logo, fonts, and color palette using Venngage’s branding feature.
Not only are Venngage templates free to use and professionally designed, but they are also tailored for various use cases and industries to fit your exact needs and requirements.
Step 7: Share your genogram
Once you’ve got a Venngage link or downloaded your genogram, it’s time to share the insights with family, therapists, researchers, or anyone else you see fit.
Here are some genogram examples to inspire you.
Conclusion: Save valuable time by creating professional and beautiful genograms in minutes with Venngage
Genograms are important tools in several fields from family therapy to medical analysis. You can also use genograms for counseling, social work, education and career growth and much more. Regardless of the reason why you need a genogram, Venngage can help.
Use Venngage to customize your genogram and add your own symbols, colors, and text to match your brand or style. It’s one of the most effective and time efficient ways to create genograms today.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you make a simple genogram?
To make a simple genogram, it’s best to start with details of your life. Draw a square or circle, connect yourself to siblings with horizontal lines and parents with vertical lines. Repeat this process until at least you have three generations to create a simple genogram.
What are the rules for making a genogram?
A few important rules for making a genogram include: 1) males are always shown on the left and females on the right, 2) horizontal lines connect people across the same generation, and 3) children are placed left to right, with the oldest coming first.
Is making a genogram a good idea?
Creating a genogram is a good idea if you want to help a family member get over issues that have spanned generations or understand the habits and actions of each individual in a family.
What is the best genogram maker?
The answer to the best genogram maker is subjective, but Venngage should definitely be on your list. Venngage is a free genogram maker tool that can be accessed online and has an easy-to-use interface that will help you make sleek genograms in minutes.