Is there someone in your family that everybody avoids mentioning? Do your relatives shrink when you talk about doing family history? You might want to consider doing a genogram of your family.

Not only are genograms the central theme of my recent book Tangled Roots, but they are also receiving a lot of attention in the media these days. In a recent article in Newsweek, Anna Kuchment has authored an article that defines genograms this way:

A genogram goes beyond names and birth dates to chart information about relatives’ relations with one another, their physical and mental health, and the places where they grew up.

In today’s society where the family is fragmenting, a genogram is an important tool for understanding who we are and why we are the way we are. This is the first step in healing.

Studying the lives of our ancestors and how they succeeded or coped gives us important information about how we can deal with the genes we inherited. We know that Jesus Christ atoned for all of our problems, not just our sins. If there are things in our past that we need to overcome, He will help us.

We came to this world to succeed, so even though we may be “programmed” genetically with a problem, with His help we can overcome it. But we must identify the problem first. It helps tremendously to know that many of our tendencies or challenges come to us through our family, but it is not an excuse for us to fail. God’s grace is available to all.

In my family, it wasn’t Aunt Hattie, but Aunt Bette. She was in and out of hospitals all the time I was growing up. Finally, she was institutionalized permanently. No one would talk about what was wrong with her. My father just said she was a hypochondriac. Then someone let the word “lithium” drop, and I realized Aunt Bette was mentally ill. In doing my genealogy on that line, I found out that she and I were descended from a long line of mentally ill people who were all institutionalized for life.

When I became mentally ill myself, my father’s attitude towards his sister was a great barrier in my deciding to get help. It also gave me a very negative picture of myself. When I finally went to get help, it was a great assistance to my doctors to know that it was a genetic problem. They were able to change my negative mindset and overcome my “programming” about what it meant to be mentally ill.

I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude to my Heavenly Father that I live in a day and age when medications are available for my problem. By the time the medications that helped me manage my illness were on the market I was so ill that it wouldn’t have been long before I would have been institutionalized myself.

This serious problem has gone down another generation in my family. It is worth noting that my nephew’s psychiatrist told his mother that when this is a genetic problem, it manifests itself earlier in each generation. My own son has had it since he was twelve.

Genograms can red flag many problems: addictions, abuse, attention deficit disorder, self-destructive behavior, disease, marital longevity. They can also trace artistic talents, genius, and even entrepreneurial success.

According to Newsweek, software for a genogram project can be found at (free for fewer than 25 people; $49 for 26 or more.)

If you have read Tangled Roots, you will find that genograms can reveal more than names and dates. They can lead you into very unexpected adventures!