Symbols and Conventions Used in Pedigrees

Pedigrees are visual representations of familial relationships and patterns of inheritance for a specific trait or disease. They are commonly used in genetics to study the transmission of genetic conditions within families and to determine the probability of an individual inheriting a particular trait.

A pedigree typically consists of a series of symbols and lines that connect individuals within a family. Each symbol represents a specific individual and provides information about their sex, affected status (whether they have the trait or disease being studied), and other relevant details. Lines connecting individuals indicate their relationships, such as parent-child or sibling relationships.

Pedigrees can reveal important information about the inheritance pattern of a trait or disease. For example, they can help determine whether a trait follows an autosomal dominant, autosomal recessive, or X-linked inheritance pattern. By analyzing the pedigree, geneticists can make predictions about the likelihood of a trait being passed on to future generations and assess the risk of certain disorders within a family.

In an autosomal dominant inheritance pattern, an affected individual has a 50% chance of passing the trait to each of their offspring, regardless of their sex. This means that if one parent carries the trait, there is a high chance that their children will inherit it as well.

In an autosomal recessive inheritance pattern, both parents must carry the recessive allele for their child to be affected. In this case, an affected individual may have unaffected parents, but they can pass the trait on to their children. If both parents are carriers, there is a 25% chance of their child being affected.

X-linked inheritance patterns involve genes located on the X chromosome. Males have one X chromosome and females have two, so the inheritance patterns differ between the sexes. If a male inherits an X-linked trait, he will express it because he only has one X chromosome. However, females need to inherit two copies of the allele to express the trait, as one X chromosome can compensate for the other.

Pedigrees are essential tools in genetic counseling and research, as they help geneticists and healthcare professionals understand the inheritance patterns of genetic conditions. They can also aid in the identification of carriers within families and the estimation of recurrence risks for future offspring.

In conclusion, pedigrees are visual representations of familial relationships used to study the inheritance patterns of traits and diseases. They provide valuable information about the likelihood of individuals inheriting specific traits and help determine the mode of inheritance. Pedigrees play a crucial role in genetic counseling and research, aiding in the understanding and prediction of genetic conditions within families.


  • Hamamy, H., & Al-Allawi, N. (2012). Clinical applications of pedigree analysis: a review. Clinical Genetics, 82(5), 413-427.
  • McKusick, V. A. (2007). Mendelian inheritance in man and its online version, OMIM. American Journal of Human Genetics, 80(4), 588-604.


Pedigrees are visual representations of family histories that depict the inheritance patterns of genetic traits or diseases. They are commonly used in genetics research and clinical practice to study the occurrence and transmission of genetic disorders within families. Pedigrees use specific symbols and conventions to represent individuals, relationships, and genetic information. In this article, we will explore the symbols and conventions commonly used in pedigrees and their meanings.

What is a Pedigree?


A pedigree is a diagram that depicts the biological relationships between family members over multiple generations. It is used to analyze the pattern of inheritance of specific traits, particularly genetic disorders.


Generations are typically labeled with Roman numerals (I, II, III, etc.), starting with the oldest generation at the top and moving downward. Individuals within each generation are numbered from left to right.

Interpreting Pedigrees

Modes of Inheritance

Pedigrees can reveal different patterns of inheritance, including:

  • Autosomal Dominant: The trait appears in every generation, and affected individuals have at least one affected parent. Both males and females are equally affected.
  • Autosomal Recessive: The trait can skip generations, and affected individuals often have two unaffected carrier parents. Both males and females are equally affected.
  • X-Linked Dominant: The trait does not skip generations, and affected males pass the trait to all their daughters but none of their sons. Both males and females can be affected, but females are more commonly affected.
  • X-Linked Recessive: The trait is more common in males, as they have only one X chromosome. Affected males are usually born to carrier mothers.
  • Mitochondrial Inheritance: Traits are passed from mothers to all their children, as mitochondria are inherited maternally.

Carrier Status

Pedigrees can help identify carriers of recessive traits. Carriers do not express the trait but can pass it on to their offspring. This is particularly important for autosomal recessive and X-linked recessive conditions.

Predicting Risk

By analyzing a pedigree, genetic counselors can estimate the risk of a couple having a child with a genetic disorder. This information is crucial for family planning and managing genetic conditions.

Clinical and Research Applications

Genetic Counseling

Pedigrees are extensively used in genetic counseling to assess the risk of inherited disorders. Counselors use pedigrees to explain inheritance patterns to families and provide information about testing and management options.

Medical Diagnosis

In clinical settings, pedigrees assist in diagnosing genetic conditions by revealing patterns that suggest specific inheritance modes. This helps healthcare providers determine the most appropriate diagnostic tests.


Researchers use pedigrees to study the inheritance of traits and identify genes associated with genetic disorders. Pedigree analysis can lead to discoveries about the genetic basis of diseases and the development of new treatments.

Constructing a Pedigree

Gathering Information

The first step in constructing a pedigree is gathering detailed family history. This includes information about family members, their health status, and any known genetic conditions.

Drawing the Pedigree

Using standardized symbols, the pedigree is drawn to represent the family structure accurately. Each individual is placed in the appropriate generation and connected to their relatives.


Once the pedigree is constructed, it is analyzed to identify patterns of inheritance, carrier status, and potential risks for future generations.

Ethical Considerations

Privacy and Confidentiality

When constructing and analyzing pedigrees, it is essential to maintain privacy and confidentiality. Sensitive information about family health and genetic risks must be handled with care.

Informed Consent

Individuals should provide informed consent before their genetic information is included in a pedigree. They should understand how the information will be used and the potential implications for their family.

1. Symbols for Individuals


A square is used to represent a male individual in a pedigree. The symbol is typically drawn with straight lines.


A circle is used to represent a female individual in a pedigree. The symbol is typically drawn with curved lines.

Shaded or Filled-In Shape

A shaded or filled-in shape, whether square or circle, indicates that the individual is affected by the genetic trait or disease being studied.

Half-Shaded Shape

A half-shaded shape, either square or circle, indicates that the individual is a carrier of a genetic trait or disease but does not exhibit symptoms themselves.

2. Symbols for Relationships

Horizontal Line

A horizontal line connects a male and a female individual, representing a marriage or a partnership.

Vertical Line

A vertical line descends from the horizontal line and connects to the offspring of the couple. It represents a biological child.


Siblings (brothers and sisters) are represented by vertical lines that emerge from the same horizontal line.


Identical twins are indicated by a diagonal line connecting the vertical lines representing them. Fraternal twins are represented by two vertical lines emerging from the same horizontal line.

3. Symbols for Genetic Information


Arrows are used to indicate the direction of genetic traits or diseases. They point from the affected individuals to the offspring.

Affected Individuals

Affected individuals, those who have the genetic trait or disease being studied, are indicated by shaded or filled-in shapes, as mentioned earlier.


Carriers, individuals who carry the genetic trait or disease but do not exhibit symptoms, are indicated by half-shaded shapes, as mentioned earlier.

Deceased Individuals

A diagonal line drawn through a shape represents an individual who is deceased.

4. Additional Conventions


Generations are typically represented by roman numerals (I, II, III, etc.) on the left side of the pedigree. The oldest generation is assigned the highest number.

Individual Identification

Each individual in a pedigree is assigned a unique identifier, such as a number or a letter, to distinguish them from one another.

Key or Legend

A key or legend is often included in the pedigree to explain the symbols and conventions used.


Symbols and conventions play a crucial role in creating clear and standardized pedigrees that effectively communicate genetic information. By using specific symbols to represent individuals, relationships, and genetic traits, pedigrees provide a visual representation of inheritance patterns within families. Understanding the symbols and conventions used in pedigrees is essential for researchers, genetic counselors, and clinicians to accurately interpret and analyze genetic information for the study and diagnosis of genetic disorders.

FAQs Pedigrees

What is a pedigree?

A pedigree is a diagram that depicts the genetic relationships and inheritance patterns within a family. It shows the phenotypes and/or genotypes of family members across multiple generations.

Why are pedigrees important in genetics?

Pedigrees are an essential tool in genetics and medical genetics. They allow researchers and clinicians to analyze patterns of inheritance for genetic traits, disorders, and diseases within a family.

What information is typically included in a pedigree?

Pedigrees typically include information such as:

  • Symbols for males, females, and affected individuals
  • Lines connecting parents and offspring
  • Consanguineous marriages (between blood relatives)
  • Numerical or shaded symbols to indicate affected individuals

How are different inheritance patterns represented in a pedigree?

Pedigrees can depict various inheritance patterns, such as:

  • Autosomal dominant
  • Autosomal recessive
  • X-linked dominant
  • X-linked recessive

What is the purpose of constructing a pedigree?

The main purposes of constructing a pedigree are to:

  • Determine the mode of inheritance for a genetic trait or disorder
  • Assess the risk of an individual inheriting or passing on a genetic condition
  • Guide genetic testing and counseling for affected families

How can pedigrees be used in genetic research and medicine?

Pedigrees are invaluable in genetic research, allowing scientists to track the inheritance of genes and identify potential causative mutations. In medicine, pedigrees inform genetic testing, screening, and family planning decisions.