Genogram Your Family

                        Why genogram?

            Is there a woman in your family who is always attracted to losers? Does your family have more than its share of clergymen, or war heroes? Is there a disproportionate artistic or athletic ability on one side of the family? Do the women rule the home or do the men? Why? Are there people in the family who are at high risk for cancer or sunburn, and others who are healthy as a horse? Must it always be so? Can knowing these things give you an advantage to succeed in life?  Sociologists have discovered that people experience different fortunes and do certain behavior which cannot be accounted for by their health, or personality, or assets. Sociologists have found that these things occur in patterns in families. Family strengths and weaknesses are distributed among individual family members in generational patterns.

                        What is a genogram?

            A genogram is a multi-generational chart of relationships between individuals in a family along with personal traits of each family member. Genograms are used to help identify positive and negative influences surrounding an individual. They are also used by doctors to study patterns of inherited medical conditions

                        How can you chart your own family relationships? 

            First, gather information on everyone in the family that anyone can remember. Start with yourself, and include as many generations as possible. Three generations are a minimum.

            1) Gathering data

            The best way is through informal interviews. Everyone loves a visit to talk about family. Talk in person or on the telephone.  You don't need geneology documentation; just talk to people in the family who might know anything. Grandparents are a great source. Be prepared to discover new things. Some things about your ancestors will be nice, and some will not; that's normal for families, especially American and Australian families.

            Make notes, but don't use interview forms; just talk. Forms bother people the way lunch or an afternoon tea doesn't. Don't forget to ask the people you interview about people who have already died.  You'll want to jot down birth dates, death dates (to calculate their age when they died), causes of death, marriages, education, careers, personality information, countries of birth, relocations, and anything notable they did or that was done to them. (Examples of things to jot down: did they serve in the military, fight in a war, go to jail, suffer a great wrong, move, finish or not finish school/college, get rich, serve in public office; were they harsh, gentle, angry, generous, stubborn, very smart, a door-mat, attracted to losers, artistic, athletic, inventive, resilient, etc.

           2) Make a kinship chart (see example at

            Start with yourself and your siblings.  Draw each generation on the same line. Use symbols to save time. (see examples at and ) Genogramming is an ongoing activity. As you learn new things about your family and ancestors, add the data to your genogram. You can also draw a penciled spreadsheet like this.

Genogram data for ______________________


family birth order

marriage& divorce

highest grade

money  power status

age at death

health issues

cause of death



accidents losses




Married widowed re-married


inherited farm



auto crash

US Marines WWII pastor


house fire

published novel




8th grade





store clerk
















            3) Study your chart for patterns.  Pray for insight.  Sleep on it. You will solve riddles of behavior, and disclose the solution to family (dys)function mysteries.  Family dynamics are very interesting.  God is in these details.


            What do you do with a pattern finding?

            When you see a pattern, first thing to do is to honor it and the ancestors who lived it.  Don’t be quick to judge. Things are not as they appear. Some weaknesses may be hidden assets or opportunities. If it is a weakening, you can take steps to cut off the repetition in your generation, or alert your children. If it is a strength, you can take steps to develop & strengthen it.

Here are some geno-patterns that inform Art Rilling’s line:


1) The Rilling males through Emil’s line do not live or finish their adult lives in their native country. I'm not sure if this is a family curse (weakness)or a difficult family blessing (strength).

Peter    Germany, lived in Russia.

            Daniel P.     Austria, lived in Russia and Canada

                        William       Russia, lived in Canada

                                    Emil       Canada, lived in Zimbabwe and Florida

                                                William Emil     USA, lived in Zimbabwe

                                                Art                Zimbabwe, lives in Texas

                                                            Rigel          Kenya, lives in Texas

                                                            Jono          Zimbabwe, lives in New Zealand

2) The Rilling females descended from Leona Keim Rilling have a high incidence of cancer. Several carry the BRCA1 gene mutation c64y, statistically linked to breast and ovarian cancers.

3) Rilling males sire more girls than boys, (not quite two:one).