Skip to main content

Family History

An Overview

Family members share genes, habits, lifestyles, and surroundings.

These things can affect health and the risk for illness, so it’s important to understand your family health history. Family health history is a record of the health conditions in your family. It tells more than just what diseases run in your family, but includes information about where your family has lived and what kind of work and activities they do.

This can help you see whether you and your family face risks to your health. Your healthcare provider can help you understand your chance of developing a genetic condition and suggest the steps to prevent or treat the symptoms.

Tips on gathering family health history:
You can learn about your family health history from family trees, baby books, old letters, obituaries, or records from place of worship. But the best way to gather information about your family health history is to speak to your relatives.

Some people may be more willing to share health information face to face. Others may prefer answering your questions by phone, mail, or e-mail. However you do it, it is important that you explain why you are asking the questions.

Let your family members know that you are creating a record to find out whether you and your relatives have a family history of certain diseases or health conditions.

Here are some questions to get you started:

Questions About Childhood:

Feel free to add your own questions that are specific to your own family.

Where were you born?

Where did you grow up?

Did you experience any health problems (for example, allergies) as a child?

Do you have any brothers or sisters?

  • Are they living?
  • How old are they?

Questions About Adulthood:

What jobs have you had?

  • Can you tell me about a normal day?

What was your work environment like?

Do you have children?

  • What are their names?
  • When were they born?
  • Did they have any health problems?

Did you have any health problems as an adult?

  • At what age?
  • How was this treated (for example, medicine or surgery)?
Family members may not be able to answer all your questions
In some cases, they may not want to.

Some people may be willing to answer only some of your questions, or ask that you keep some answers between you and your healthcare provider – and that’s okay! Collect the information you can, and respect your relatives’ wishes.

Once you learn about your family health history, you may learn that there are some health conditions that run in your family.

Some genes passed down in a family can increase the chance of getting certain health conditions. You can find out if a condition runs in your family by examining the health of your relatives and talking more to a genetic counselor to help you better understsand your family health history.

One or more close relatives may have the health condition.

A health condition may occur at much younger ages in your family than it usually does.

  • 10 to 20 years before most people get the health condition.
  • For example, colon cancer in a close relative younger than 60 years old.

A family member may have a health condition that does not usually affect their biological sex.

  • For example, breast cancer in a man.

There could be certain combinations of health conditions within your family.

  • For example, breast and ovarian cancer, or heart disease and diabetes.

Your family history may hold important clues for you.

It can't tell the future, but it can give you information that can help you directly.

Your Genetics Journey

Family History

Family members share genes, habits, lifestyles, and surroundings.

A Genetics Referral

The term "referral" can mean both the act of sending you to another doctor or therapist, and to the actual paperwork authorizing your visit.


A screening test is performed as a preventative measure – to detect a potential health problem or disease in someone that doesn’t yet have signs or symptoms.

A Genetic Diagnosis

Families may feel a range of emotions after the diagnosis of a genetic condition. You may feel afraid of what is going to happen next. Or, you may have a sense of relief from learning what the cause of a medical problem is.


The National Genetics Education and Family Support Center (Family Center) provides tools and resources to support family engagement and genetic services.

Contact info

4301 Connecticut Ave NW Suite 404 Washington, DC 20008-2369

[email protected]