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A genogram is a graphic representation of a family tree that displays detailed data of relationships among individuals (genopro.com). Genograms provide a way of mapping family patterns and relationships across at least three generations (Galvin, Constructing and Interpreting Interaction Patterns).
Purpose of a Genogram
A genogram can provide useful information on critical events, quality of relationships, important messages transmitted across generations, patterns of illness, and the role of second spouses and younger children in succession (Poza, Family Business) at a glance. Many fields are beginning to use the genogram for a variety of purposes, though the most common is the health field. Other fields using the genogram include legal, social work and human services (McGoldrick, About the Genogram). Genograms are also used by therapists and doctors to track family history of illness or to chart complicated family relationships visually.
Difference from a Family Tree
purpose of a family tree is to track family heritage, the “regular descent of a person, [or] family … from a progenitor or older form” (Merriam-Webster.com). The only purpose is to assemble a history of names and birth/ death dates. A genogram’s purpose is to go beyond that, and to add behaviors. It is this that separates a genogram from a family tree.
Constructing or Creating a Genogram
Before beginning a genogram, it is important to assemble all possible information on the family. Interviewing other members of the family is often the best way to find the qualitative aspects of the genogram. Death, marriage, and birth certificates are excellent sources of information and can be found at local record keeping offices or through the family itself.
In a genogram, males are shown as squares and females as circles. The oldest generation should be located at the top, and the youngest at the bottom. Birth and death years are usually listed around the individual’s name, along with any other pertinent information for that person. Diatic lines and relationships between individuals are often conveyed by lines connecting one person to another. As seen in the example below, Max is married to Sally, symbolized by a solid line connecting them. Children from this marriage will stem from the line connecting the parents and placed left to right by birth order (Gavin, Basic Genogram Components). Engagements are represented by dashed lines, and divorces by a double strike through the marriage line. Deaths are indicated by a forward-slash through the individual’s name.
Diatic (emotional) relationships can be represented in several different ways. For example, solid green lines signify positive relationships, and red or zigzagged lines represent hostility or violence between individuals.
It is important to note that no two people may interpret a relationship the same way, and that people may have vastly differing perspectives of the same relationship. The genogram is created for the use of the person who has created it, and not usually for the family at large (Poza). This is allows the creator to be very frank in their interpretations of the family dynamics without worrying about excluding or changing details to preserve family harmony.
Advantages of a Genogram
Genograms are an excellent way to have a visual representation of a family. They have much more information than a family tree because they can include relationships, business history, and health issues that otherwise would not be seen. This can be important within a family business when looking for advice or consultation, or when planning for succession. It can also be helpful to younger generations when a genogram is available to help decipher any relationships within the family. For instance, when a family member has recently taken over the family business and would like to consult with someone within the family about a particular issue, they can find who may have experience in the matter and who would not be favorable to contact. Someone with a gambling problem is probably not a good source for financial consultation, while an accountant or financial officer would be an excellent contact.
Galvin, Kathleen. "Constructing and Interpreting Interaction Patterns." Genograms.org. 2010. Web. 20 Feb 2010. <
Galvin, Kathleen. "Basic Genogram Components." Genograms.org. 2010. Web. 20 Feb 2010. <
"Genealogy." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2010.
Merriam-Webster Online. 28 February 2010
"Introduction to the Genogram." Genopro.com. Web. 20 Feb 2010. <
McGoldrick, Monica. "More about Genograms ." Web. 27 Feb 2010. <
Poza , Ennesto J. Family Business. 3rd . Canada:
South-Western Cengage Learning, 2010. 34-37. Print.
Sydney Asby and Amanda Gouldie
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