Family Diagram User Manual

The family diagram is an outgrowth of family systems theory. The information contained on a family diagram is meaningless without a thorough understanding of the principles that govern emotional systems. The diagram reflects the ebb and flow of emotional process through the generations. It defines the vicissitudes of a living organism, the multigenerational family. (Kerr & Bowen, 1988, p. 306)

Family Diagram makes it easier to research the functioning of a human family unit. Geneology tracks structure, or what the family is. A family diagram tracks the family's function, or what it does. Family Diagram is organized around an effort to differentiation a self, or mature ones own functioning in all important relationships. Differentiation is a concept from the Bowen theory. Making the most of Family Diagram requires a working knowledge of theory or a coach who has been trained in theory.

Differentiation is not a quick-fix for human problems. It is an ongoing effort to improve the manner in which one functions in their own relationships. An effort at differentiation only works when the effort is to change self. It is an effort best undertaken under the guidance of an experienced coach. It requires research into one's own family in order to "see" facts about how the multigenerational family functions that one has not been able to see before. The perrenial question in Bowen theory is: How does one see what has been right in front of one's eyes all along?

Clinical experience through the decades suggests that an effort to grow up in one's own family of origin automatically translates to spousal, parental, professional, and social contexts. For that, it is necessary to understand the basic patterns of functioning in the family system during times of stress versus times of calm. This requires tracking the automatic reactions of individuals to important events in the family's history, and how these reactions automatically impact the reactions of others.

Like any scientific theory, Bowen theory provides a guide for what facts to look for in the research effort. The theory can also provide a way to interpret the facts and make hypothetical predictions about the outcomes of actions. Just like any rigorous research effort, the researcher must experiment and verify those predictions for themselves.

The "facts" of family functioning described in Bowen theory are predictable interactions that occur between people in all families in response to changes in the level of stress. The reactions that Bowen theory describes are almost entirely automatic, and so outside of awareness. At least at first. Tracking the facts of family functioning through time can make these reactive patterns as plain as day. Eventually one's own part in them becomes clear as well. Once one's own part in them is clear, it can be changed. But it takes work. The app can only assist in this effort. The work is up to you.

Any scientific theory is also stands to be disproven. Good science aims to disprove, not prove a hunch. Does the family actually adapt to stress in the manner that one assumes? Is one's role in that adaption actually what one assumes? Time, experimentation, and coaching are all essential for the effort.

This user manual is meant to help you use the app in an effort to differentiate a self. It does not describe Bowen theory and its eight concepts, which are required to make full use of Family Diagram. More information on the Bowen theory can be found using the following two links:

Ms.Victoria Harrison has published a guide to creating a family diagram. Ms. Harrison describes the purpose and process of creating diagrams in line with Bowen theory, which is organized around an effort at differentiating a self.

Table of Contents

Tutorial Video Series

If you prefer to watch a video tutorial rather than read this manual, you can find a tutorial series here:

Family Diagram Tutorial Videos

The Basics

This section describes the basics about how to handle diagram files, and how to find them on your hard drive.

You can either read this section, or watch it as a tutorial in this video:

The File Browser

The file browser is shown when Family Diagram starts up. It conveniently lists the files stored in your documents folder. Click once on a file to open it. Once the diagram is open, click the Home button to close the diagram and return to the file browser.

Pull down the file browser list a little to expose the search bar, New button, Sort by date checkbox, and Edit button. You can click the New button to create a new diagram. The diagram is automatically opened for you. You have to click the Edit button to rename or delete a case file. The Edit button acts like a safety to keep from accidentally deleting and renaming files when only trying to open them.

You can search for a case by name by typing into the search bar.

The Documents Folder

The file browser simply lists the diagram files in a particular folder. When you first start up Family Diagram on a mac, it will ask you if you want to store your diagrams on iCloud Drive or on the local hard drive. If you choose iCloud Drive, your diagrams will be stored in the "Family Diagram" folder under "iCloud Drive" in the macOS Finder. If you choose to store diagrams on your local hard drive, it will default to listing the files in your macOS Documents folder.

You can change the folder that the file browser uses to list your diagrams in the preferences. Click the File menu, and then Preferences to open the preferences dialog. There you will find an option to toggle between iCloud Drive if you are logged into iCloud and have iCloud drive enabled (most people do), and a folder on your local hard drive. If you choose to store diagrams on your local hard drive, you have the option to change the folder used to any folder on your computer.

For simplicity, it is recommended that you store all of your diagrams in a single folder and that you set the file browser to use that folder.

Exporting Diagrams

Diagrams are stored with the .fd extension. These are macOS file bundles, so you will have to zip the .fd files before you email them to another person.

You also have the option to export diagrams as a JPEG with a white background, a PNG with a transparent background for including in presentations, or a PDF with a white background.

You can also print diagrams to your local printer. If you don't like Family Diagram formats diagrams for printing, you can export the diagram as a JPEG and format it however you want.

Core Principles

The basic principles of Family Diagram are described in this section. First principles are important for learning how to think about famiyl diagrams in a new way.

The Family Diagram "Standard"

Family Diagram attempts to enforce a single standard set of symbols for all diagrams. The majority of the symbols have been taken from Michael Kerr's chapter Family Evaluation in his 1988 book of the same name. Any symbols not covered are derived from the thinking of Vedanā Media.


A key principle of the app is that all pertitent data must be placed somewhere in time. This keeps the data collected relatable and coherant. It also enables the key feature of the app, which is to animate emotional process through time.

While basic personal data such as gender and birth-type is stored for each person, most all data is stored in Events. Birth, adoption, death, and other arbitrary events are stored within each person's own timeline, and marriages, separations, divorces, and geographical moves are stored in each Pair-Bond's timeline. All events are then automatically combined into a single Timeline for the holistic view.

People, Pair-Bonds, and Children

You can add people, create pair-bonds (i.e. sexual relationships), and add children to Pair-Bonds using the Item Tool Bar on the left side of the window. Here is a legend of basic symbols:

Family Diagram Legend

You can add a male or a female by clicking the appropriate button in the Item Tool Bar and then clicking on the diagram. Once you have two people you can create a Pair-Bond relationship between them by clicking the Pair-Bond button and then clicking and draging from one person to the next to form the bond, like this:

You can then add a child to the Pair-Bond by clicking the child button and the dragging from the child to a Pair-Bond like this:

You can also add multiple births by adding a new child to an existing child relationship, like this:

Here is a video tutorial covering the above section:

Editing Item Properties

You can edit the properties of all items on the diagram, including a people, pair-bonds, child-of symbols, or emotional process symbols. For example, you may to edit a person's name or birth date, a pair-bond's marriage, separation, or divorce dates, or an emotional process symbol's type, start date, or end date.

To edit an item, first select the items you want to edit. Then click the "i" button on the Drawer Tool Bar on the right side of the window. Alternatively, you can use the "Inspect" action in the "Edit" menu (command-i keyboard shortcut) with the item selected to open the item's properties. There are other keyboard shortcuts to inspect a particular tab in the item's properties. These shortcuts are available in the View menu and begin with the word "Inspect".

The "Big Text" checkbox at the bottom of the person and pair-bond properties increases the font size for that item on the diagram. This makes it easier to have some items stand out over others.

Here is a video tutorial covering the above section:

Editing Dates

The date editor offers two different ways to enter dates, either by typing the date in a standard format, or using a visual month, day, and year picker. For best results, be sure to type dates in the mm/dd/yyyy format, being sure to include the slashes.

Clicking the clear button clears the date value to prevent it appearing on the timeline.

The "unsure" box helps you indicate when you don't know a precise date. This can help you come back and update the date with the precise month and day when you acquire them.

You can close the date editor by clicking anywhere outside of it.

The Timeline

The timeline is the core of the Family Diagram app. It allows you to quickly get a holistic view of the changes that the multigenerational family organism goes through. It also is what allows the diagram to be animated which makes it easier to spot events which occur in different parts of the family system on or near the same time.

Here is a video tutorial that covers many of the concepts in this section:

The Family Timeline

The family timeline lists all of the events for everyone in the family. It can be expanded to show additional information for each event, including any custom variables that you add to the diagram.

You can edit the dates, descriptions, and other properties of the events listed in the timeline by double-clicking on them and typing in a new value.

Many events are automatically added to the timeline, for example births, deaths, marriages, emotional process start and end dates, and others. You cannot edit the description of these events or change the person(s) they are associated with, but you can edit the dates.

Event Variables

Choosing what kind of variables to track in the timeline can make it easier to get more objective about emotional process. For example, it may be useful to track changes in a symptom in relation to nodal events. Or, it may make sense to choose a few variables that define progress toward a goal. The app allows you to add your own variables to the timeline so that you can more objectively track change in the emotional system over time.

These custom variables will store whatever value you type into them. You create custom variables by opening the timeline, clicking the "Settings" tab, then editing the list of variables at the top of the settings view. The variables you add will appear as extra columns in the timeline.

The Personal Timeline

The personal timeline lists all of the events for the person that is currently being edited. It contains all the same features as the family timeline, except that it only shows events for that particualr person.

Visual Timeline

The visual timeline allows you to get a bird's-eye view of the family's history. Looking at the same data in a different way can make it easier to see patterns, whatever that different way may be. The visual timeline lays out the family's history in a scale-accurate dimension from left to right with the event date, description, and person that the event pertained to. "Nodal" events are drawn with larger circles so they stand out. This view makes obvious when clusters of events occured within close proximity of each other, for example.

Date Scroller

You can scroll through the timeline of the family as you would a movie file on you computer. Just click anywhere on the visual timeline at the bottom of the diagram to set the date. You can also click and drag to swip forward and backward through time, or use the arrow keys to jump between dates that incur a visual update to the diagram.

You also expand the visual timeline to conduct a more in-depth chronological analysis of the family. Click on the expand button to make the timeline full size.

Zoom into a particular point on the timeline by holding down the Alt key (Option key on macOS) while scrolling up or down with the trackpad or mouse. You can scroll left and right with the trackpad or mouse wheel.

An important function of the visual timeline is to lay cateogries of events on top of each other to expose relationships between the categories. For example, you can compare the timing of births, deaths, pair-bond events, and functioning-oriented events that contribute to family projection, as demonstrated in the following graphic:

Tracking Variables Through Time

Because the application of Bowen theory looks more like a research effort than a tested tool that solves a particular problem, Family Diagram is designed as a research tool. This principle applies jusst as well to the coach or academic family researcher. One important question for any researcher is what variables to track and how to track it (theoretical dilemmas for this question are addressed in the next section).

Family Diagram allows you to add your own variables to the family timeline. You can choose whichever variables suit your interests for the family in question. For example, it may be useful to track the onset, fluctuation, and remission of a symptom over time. You may then attempt to relate changes in this variable to changes in the broader system.

To add a new variable, click the Settings button on the right side of the diagram. At the top you will see the variables list. You can click the add button to add a new variable, and double-click the name to rename it. If you navigate back to the timeline view and drag the left side to expand it, you will notice that these variables appear as additional columns. You can double-click on the cell for a particular column to edit it, and hit enter to save your edit.

You can also choose a template to replace all of the variables in the diagram. As of the time of this writing, there are two templates available for existing research models, the Papero model and the Havstad model. You can read more about these models in issue 13.2 of the Family Systems journal.


Tags allow you to filter the diagram and timeline by tag. For example, if you wanted to keep track of who was in a single household you could create a new tag called "household" and check it for each appropriate person. You could do the same for a family business.

Here is a video tutorial covering the concepts in this section:

You can add a tag to a few events by editing the tag list in the Meta tab of the property sheet, and then search by tag using the More... button like this:

You can also set tags on people. When exporting a diagram there is an option to limit the export to certain tags. For example, if you wanted to keep some of the data in the diagram private you could create a tag called "private" and select to exclude the "private" tag when exporting the diagram. That enables you to use the diagram as a personal journal in an effort at differentiation of self.

There is a single list of tags for the diagram. If you add a tag in one person or event's property sheets, you will see listed for all other people and events. Checking the tag only pertains to the person or event you are editing.

Theoretical Dilemmas: Do Variables Pertain to People, or Groups?

There is a theoretical dilemma at the core of any effort to operationalize a rich model like Bowen theory. That is, what is the proper data model that represents what is described in the theory. Bowen theory describes how the human family is a complex system by defining the emergent properties of that system. That is, the processes which only occur when two or more people are active; They do not occur when one investigates only a single person in isolation. Complex systems science is an emerging multidisciplinary field that studies how best to track properties that are emergent in complex systems. One important question in Bowen theory is; "How does one systematically track the functioning of the family emotional system through time?" There is no clear answer for this as of this writing. What variables would be required for such an effort? Would they pertain to individuals or groups? For example, symptoms such as Crohns flare-ups or panic attacks are typically associated with one individual. A geographical move would pertain to each person that moved, but may be associated most importantly with the mating-pair because that is the context in which the level of basic self is established in a developing child. What about when two cousins, an uncle, another aunt, and a grandparent move in with each other and form a family business?

As of this writing, arbitrary events are associated with individuals alone. Emotional process symbols (described elsewhere in this manual) are associated with either a single individual or two individuals. Geographical move events can be added to pair-bond representing one mating pair. In the future, it may make sense to associate events on the timeline with arbitrary groups of people. But for now, this remains a theoretical dilemma.

This dilemma is particularly important for Family Diagram because a majority of the app's code is organized around the principle that each timeline event is associated with a single person. An exception was made for geographical move events being associated with a single pair-bonds, and also for emotional process symbols appearing on the dates they began and ended. However, these exceptions incur significant overhead and deteriorate from a coherant design until a single rule emerges which can accomodate all of these cases while remaining theoretical accurate.

Emotional Process Symbols

One of the most useful contributions that Family Diagram makes is to be able to track emotional process over time. But what exactly are "emotional" process symbols?

Emotional process symbols are used to track the functioning, or behavior of the multigenerational family organism. This is not the same as recording structure of the organism, the who, when, and where, which is the focus of genology. Structure consists of the names of the system's components and their static physical relationships. Function refers to change that occurs within the bounds of structure over time. Bowen theory describes the function of the human family.

The 8 concepts of Bowen theory describe human behavior in terms of the transactions that occur between people over tme. Emphasis is placed on transactions which are more automatic than transactions that are thoughtfully planned. "Emotion" in Bowen theory describes the energy for that which is automatic in any living thing. This is not equivalent to "feeling," which is defined in Bowen theory as that aspect of emotion that humans are aware of an describe use anthropocentric terms, like anger, sadness, and happiness. In other words, "emotion" is any movement that is automatic, from the flow of blood to the movement of an arm. Under this definition, the term emotion applies universally to life as something like "movement that is automatic."

One way of tracking transactions between humans in a more factual way is to track shifts in processes rather than the content of those processes. For example, tracking when overt conflict began and ended (i.e. shifts in the process) would probably be more objective than tracking whether the statements made in the conflict (i.e. content of the process) were factual. Bowen theory represents a complex systems way of thinking. Tracking shifts in process immediately steps out of a reductionistic way of thinking into a complex systems way of thinking.

In Family Diagram, you add a new symbol for each shift in process. Each symbol has a beginning and ending date to mark the beginning and ending of that symbol. You can use the legend at the top of this manual to see the various types of emotional process symbols you can add.

At present, there is no way to modulate the size of emotional process symbols over time. You would need to add another symbol with a different size to show a change in size over time.

When to Add a Symbol, and for What

As described, symbols should have a factual basis. It can be a fact that two people began arguing for the first time on a particular date. It is not necessarily a fact that people argue "because" they are angry at each other, or "because" one started the argument, or "because" they have no choice because of present or historical circumstances. But it can be a fact that an argument occurred.

If an argument occured on a particular date, let's say Dec 22nd, 2012, with explicit verbalized feeling, you would add a conflict symbol between those people and set both the start and end date to Dec 22nd, 2012. That would make the conflict symbol appear on the timeline for Dec 22nd, 2012 only.

If these two people have a reliable pattern of such conflict, then you can leave the dates out. This leaves the symbol visible on all dates. If these two people had a pattern of avoiding discussing important issues prior to Dec 22nd, 2012, then you would add a distance symbol ending on Dec 22nd, 2012. This would show the distance symbol between these two people prior to Dec 22nd, 2012, and a conflict symbol between them after 2012.

An animated change on the diagram is the effect of setting dates on emotional process symbols. This catches the eye of the observer in a manner not possible without an animated diagram. The real benefit comes when one change happens on or near another change in time. For example, distance may begin between a father and daughter at the same time as the parents separated. Fusion between mother an daughter may also occur at the same time as the separation. Observing multiple visual changes at once activates the brain's ability for pattern recognition as if it were watching the family from the top of a football stadium. A new view becomes possible as more factual data is entered. Perhaps it was not apparent that the distance between father and daughter occured at the same time as the separation. What new questions would this generate about the way this family utilizes the four anxiety binding mechanisms?

So how do you choose when to put a symbol on the diagram? Add symbols for factual shifts like the ones described above. If dates cannot be estimated, then leave them blank. Enter what you know today, and continually refine the model.

Try to avoid interpreting a shift at the time it is entered in the diagram. Interpreting would be assigning a "cause" for the shift, or attempting to derive some meaning or another from it. The goal of this effort is to get objective as possible, to challenge your assumptions so that you can see what you have not ben able to see before. Interpretation is important. But interpretation reenforces old assumptions and restricts you to seeing what you have always seen, by definition. Simply document a series of facts, then only occasionally step back for a few moments and see what they may mean. Don't fall into the trap of interpreting too early. It is a life-long journey to be able to see what is right in front of our eyes.

Types of Emotional Process Symbols

Currently there are six main types of emotional process symbols. Entering them factualyl requires clear definitions. The following are thumbnail sketch definitions. Comprehensive definitions can be found in Michael Kerr's two books (1988, 2019) are in Bowen's book (1978). Conflict, distance, reciprocity, and projection are the four anxiety binding mechanisms in a nuclear family emotional process.

The above symbols are established in theory. There are a few extra symbols which are experimental. This means that they are not as well defined as they may be in the future, and may not exist in the future.

Adding and Editing Emotional Process Symbols

Emotional process symbols are added in a similar manner as adding a pair-bond. You click on the appropriate type in the toolbar to enable the add-mode for that type. Then draw the symbol between the two people you want to add it to. This is done by clicking and holding the mouse button in the middle of one person, dragging with the mouse button down until the cursor is in the middle of the second person, and the letting go of the mouse button.

You can inspect emotional process symbols in the same way as all other items on the diagram. If you have many overlapping symbols between two people, hovering the mouse over the symbols will fan them out so that you can select which symbol you want to edit. Click the symbol once to select it, and then either click the "I" in the to toolbar, use the keyboard shortcut cmd-i, or double-click the symbol itself. You can find other keyboard shortcuts for inspecting items in the View menu.

Each emotional process symbol has a state date and an end date. These control when the symbols appear and disappear in the diagram over time. Each symbol also has a unique color that is used to draw its date range in the timeline.

As with other items, you can track details about this emotional process symbol using the Notes tab.

You can also set tags on emotional process symbols to filter what is shown on the diagram for various use cases.

Theoretical Dilemmas: Triangles

Traditionally, a paper diagram is used to describe either a basic pattern in the family or one specific part aspect of the basic pattern. In either case, what is included in the diagram itself is merely a thumbnail-sketch of the emotional process that is typically only elaborated verbally. This limitation is partly a function of the traditional two-dimensional format which can only display so much information at once before it becomes cluttered. This limitation is probably also a function of the cognitive and conceptual capacity of the person drawing the diagram. Thinking beyond one or two moving parts - which amounts to a thumbnail-sketch - in a complex system is an extremely challenging task for any homo sapiens.

Triangles, one of the eight formal concepts of Bowen theory, are then merely inferred from the thumbnail sketches on the two-dimensional diagram. There is currently no formal way track triangles in or outside a family diagram, whether on paper or in this app. The theoretical dilemma that triangles pose for the diagram is whether tracking triangles should be explicitly tracked or whether they should remain merely a topic of verbal discussion?

Two arguments for tracking triangles is that they are "the molecule of the emotional system," and that they are "predictable" (Bowen, 1978). Perhaps one way toward a data-driven model of the family emotional system would simply be a map of the state of each triangle and how a change in one ripples through changes in the others. If such a model were to be built, a way to track trangles would need to be defined. How best to do this?

One way to accomplish this would be to track the inside and outside positions of every single triangle in the family over time. This would produce something like a "map" of triangle positions. When stress increases in response to a problem, a simulation could watch the triangles activate in varying degree to manage the stress of the problem. A change in some triangles would lead to big changes in other triangles, and no changes in yet other triangles. In any case, a basic pattern could emerge over time with some triangles more reliably implicated in dealing with imoportant problems than others.

But even if this challenge were pursued, how best to represent this in Family Diagram? Include a special visual layer for triangles right on the diagram? What symbols to use for this? Include a tabular view for the state of each triangle at any point in time, somewhat like the timleine? Include a specialized view where you could view the status of one triangle at a time?

How would you solve with this puzzle? Do you think it is even useful to track trangles? if not, how would you operationalize the triangle concept in family research? How would you systematically track the functioning of a family?

Theoretical Dilemmas: Cutoff

Emotional cutoff is defined in the literature as termination of communication between the generations. It is a way of managing tension in those relationships. It is not necessarily a bad thing, as the alternative to a particular cutoff may be even worse. However, theory suggests that cutoff negatively influences the developmental pathways available to those who proceed through and after it.

As of this writing, people use the term "cutoff" in conflicting ways. Some use it to describe zero communication between siblings, or between one person and one or more family members. Others use it interchangably with the term "distance." It appears clearest in the literature that cutoff means the far-extreme of distance between the generations, i.e. between a person and one or more of their parents. Despite the different uses in practice, emotional cutoff is one of the eight main concepts in Bowen theory, which indicates that it is not merely a vague idea used in many ways. It must have some degree of precision in its definition.

Family Diagram adopts this latter definition of cutoff that is clearest in the literature, which is zero direct communication between the generations. Unlike the other symbols which always pertain to two people, the Cutoff symbol only pertains to one person to indicate that they have or have had a lapse in commmunication with the previous generation(s) in some form. The fact that a cutoff exists does not depend on who is supposed to have "caused" or perpetuated it.

The theoretical dilemma at play here is how best to represent a person ceasing or inheriting zero direct communication with an entire branch of the family, and then reestablishing communication at a later date. Often a shift like this can lead to functional shifts elsewhere in the system. Broadly speaking, it is not clear how to represent an emotional pattern between one person between a group of people, or between two groups of people. For one thing, the diagram would look messy. It is also unclear how to draw such a symbol in a manner that allowed for it to move when dragging people around on the diagram.

Despite this theoretical dilemma, it is posssible that you will find a way to use the cutoff symbol that is more useful to you. Maybe you will find a better way to demonstrate the observations described above. If so, let us know so that we can add it to Family Diagram.

Making Presentations

There are cases where you may want to show your diagram to others as part of a projected presentation. Presenters often want to make a few points which are not contained in the core data of the family diagram, such as who is in the family business, or who lives together. Layers are used to overlay arbitrary information onto the diagram, and then cycle through the layers to conduct a presentation. Layers are modeled after Adobe Photoshop's layer system, and allow you to create a new layer for each point that you want to make in your presentation.

The following are some video tutorials covering the concepts in this section. The first video tutorial covers the most basic use of layers to add text callouts and pencil drawings to the diagram:

The second video tutorial covers a hack that combines layers and tags to create subviews of your diagram. This is the most advanced use of Family Diagram as of this writing.


Here are two video tutorials that describe the concepts in this section on Layers:

Layers operate independently of the timeline, alowing you to animate forward and backward through the timeline at a different pace than animating through the layers.

Layers contain text callouts and pencil drawings as well as specialized layered properties for other items such as position, color, emphasis, etc. When you activate a layer, it swaps the properties for each item with the the value stored in that layer.

There are keyboard shortcuts which make it easy to cycle through the layers in the order that they appear in the layers list. This is the primary method of switching layers in presentations because it keeps the diagram clean so the audience can simply focus on the content and not the user interface. To activate the next layer in the list, use ⌘-<right-arrow>. To active the previous layer in the list, use ⌘-<left-arrow>.

You can rename layers to keep them organized during editing:

Text Callouts

Text callouts are bubbles with text like you have seen in comic books. They can contain any text, point to any number of items, and be scaled to any size.

Increase the length of each line in the callout by dragging the right edge of the box. You can make the whole callout bigger or smaller by dragging the lower-right or top-left corner of the callout. Move it slowly so as not to over-scale it.

One neat trick for Text Callouts is moving the bubble without moving the points. You can do this by holding the Alt key (Option key on macOS) while dragging the bubble, like this:

You can associate a text callout with a person so that the callout moves when you move the person. You can do this by selecting the callout, inspecting it, then setting a parent person using the dropdown menu.

Pencil Drawings

You may find it useful to draw directly on the diagram to make a point that is not immediately apparent using the standard symbols. For example, there is currently only a symbol for primary cutoff between a person and their parents, but there is not a symbol for secondary cutoff between a person and anyone other than their parents. You can quickly achieve this by drawing a line to indicate this kind of cutoff between groups of people, like this:

You can delete a pencil stroke like any other item on the diagram. First select the pencil stroke by clicking it or dragging a selection box around several pencil strokes. Then, type -delete to delete it from the diagram.

You can associate a pencil stroke with a person so that the stroke moves when you move the person. You can do this by selecting the stroke or strokes, inspecting it, then setting a parent person using the dropdown menu.

Showing Emotional Process Without Using Dates

One way to show emotional process through time is by adding beginning and ending dates to emotional process symbols. This is a more data-centric, inductive way to show emotional process. Another way to do this is when you've already deduced an interpretation from theory and want to make a presentation on how emotional process changes.

You can accomplish this by adding a layer for each "slide" or storyboard frame in your presentation, and assigning a tag to it. You then ensure that every item that you want to show in each layer has that layer's tag.

Here is a video demonstrating the concepts in this section:

Designing Sub-views using Layers

One use case for layers is to set up a sub-view of a diagram. For example, your diagram may have become quite large and there may be times when you want to focus on your nuclear family instead of your larger geneological project. You can create a layer for your nuclear family and then switch between that layer and the entire family diagram at will.

The steps for this are as follows:

  1. Show the diagram's Meta Properties by clicking the Meta button on the right side of the diagram.
  2. Add a new layer in the "Layers" list by clicking the add button below it.
  3. Double-click "Layer 1" to change the layer name to "Nuclear family."
  4. Expand the side drawer a bit to expose the tags column in the layers view.
  5. Double-click the tags cell to show the tags editor for that layer.
  6. Add a new tag in the "Tags" list by clicking the add button at the bottom of it..
  7. Double-click "New Tag 1" to change the tag name to "Nuclear family," which matches you already gave to your new layer.
  8. Click the checkbox for the "Nuclear family" tag.
  9. Click the "Done" button under the list of tags.
  10. Select all of the items on the diagram that you want to include in your new layer.
  11. Click the inspect button to inspect the selected people.
  12. Check the box for our new tag in the "meta" box of the person properties.
  13. Do the same for any emotional process symbols that you may want to include in the layer.
  14. Activate the layer by clicking the "Activate" checkbox next to your new layer back in the layer list. This will hide any items that you did not set the tag on.

Here is a video explaining this process:

There are a lot of different things happening here.

First, layers themselves do not show and hide items on the diagram, this is the function of tags. Therefore, the tags must be set on the layer so that the layer can use them to determine what should be shown and hidden when the layer is activated and deactivated. In this example you only added a single tag to a single layer, and even gave them both the same name of "Nuclear family." If this seemed redundant to you, then you were correct for this case. However, there may be cases where you may want to add multiple tags to a single layer. The app is designed for maximum flexibility to allow family researchers to use it in new and unexpected ways!

Second, while a tag was set on the layer to show and hide people, various properties are stored on the item itself. Some properties include position, color, and size, and emphasis. When you activate and deactivate a layer, each item in it reverts back to using the values it had the last time the layer was activated. For example, if you activate your "Nuclear family," drag the people in the family around, then deactivate the layer, you will notice that each person that you moved animates back into their default position. This is because changes to layered properties, visible in the "Meta" tab in that item's property sheet, are stored in the active layer. If there is no active layer, they are stored in the item's default properties.

Third, callouts and drawings are stored in layers. You can choose which layers a particular callout and drawing resides in by inspecting them and checking those layers in the list.

Click "Store Geometry" for the layer to remember size and position settings for each item on the diagram. If you choose, later you may uncheck "Store Geometry" for that layer which will revert the size and position settings to match the default view. IMPORTANT: If you move items around while this layer is active and you don't have this checkbox checked, then you will also be moving items around in your default view!

You can set up as many layers as you want. If you organize your layers like powerpoint slides, then you can use the "Next Layer" and "Previous Layer" buttons in the top toolbar to move through your layers like slides in a presentation without the layers drawer open. This is avery effective way to present a family case.

Theoretical Dilemmas: Theory VS Presentation

Early in the development of Family Diagram, a user asked if it would be possible to make people appear with a specific color. The user was interested in showing who was and who was not in the family business. While it is not hard to make a case for the importance of this kind of information, simply adding the ability to assign colors to people introduces an ambiguity in the meaning of the colors. What is the theoretical argument for designating one group within the broader system? Does an arbitrary sub-group designation possess a clearly-defined relationship with every other design decision of the app? What would someone unfamiliar with this person's use of a particular color make of the diagram? Does this detract from a well-principled standard for the family diagram concept? It is possible that the genogram became such a hodge-podge concept from appending various data without understanding what place the new data types had in the larger theoretical system. The genogram then lost its grounding in any one evolving theoretical system leaving its function to be decided by each person using it.

Layers were designed to avoid these dilemmas. Layers function to separate what is theoretically sound from the point that a presenter is trying to make at any point in time. The term layer is accurate in the sense that it contains ideas that are superimposed on top of what is described in Bowen theory. This theoretical dilemma of deciding what new features are worthy of integration into the basic features of the app and which are merely presentation details is inherent in the development of Family Diagram. It is for this reason that it must be developed in contact with long-time students of Bowen theory who are able to critique and refine these design principles and theoretical consistency.

Research Server

The app connects to a research server which contains a curated list of family diagrams contributed by fellow users. These diagrams are anonymized unless explicitly saved to use the real names, or to require a password to see the real names.

Perusing existing cases can provide a way to become familiar with the way families adapt in general. For example, it may be possible to bring a hypothesis to a series of family cases and see if any of the data contradict it.

Using the Research Server

To use the research server, just click the cloud icon at the bottom of the home/file browser screen. This will show a list of diagrams that you can open and view. You won't be able to change any of the data on the diagram or save it to a file, but you can view it all you like.

Contributing to the Research Server

If you choose, you can contribute a family diagram to the research server. The research server can also be used to share diagrams for presentations.

Open the diagram settings by clicking the gear icon on the Drawer toolbar on the right side of the window. Then scroll down and click "Contribute to research". The diagram will be assigned an alias and registered with the server. It will not be available to other users of the app until it is approved by Family Diagram staff.

All names are replaced with aliases by default to protect the identities of the users. However, this process does not work perfectly when applied to event descriptions and note fields in all items. You should therefore take care when entering data. You can test this anonymization using the "Hide names" function in the diagram and scanning through events and notes fields for identifying information.

If you choose, you can click "Show real names" to show the real names fo the people in the diagram. Additionally, you can click "Require password for real names" to prevent showing real names to people until they disable the "Hide Real Names" on their read-only copy and enter the password that is automatically generated next to the "Require password for real names" checkbox.


Kerr, M., & Bowen, M. (1988). Family evaluation: The role of the family as an emotional unit that governs individual behavior and development. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.


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