Renal cell carcinomas (RCCs) occur in both sporadic and familial forms. In a subset of families the occurrence of RCCs co-segregates with the presence of constitutional chromosome 3 translocations. Previously, such co-segregation phenomena have been widely employed to identify candidate genes in various hereditary (cancer) syndromes. Here we survey the translocation 3-positive RCC families that have been reported to date and the subsequent identification of its respective candidate genes using positional cloning strategies. Based on allele segregation, loss of heterozygosity and mutation analyses of the tumors, a multi-step model for familial RCC development has been generated. This model is relevant for (i) understanding familial tumorigenesis and (ii) rational patient management. In addition, a high throughput microarray-based strategy is presented that will enable the rapid identification of novel positional candidate genes via a single step procedure. The functional consequences of the (fusion) genes that have been identified so far, the multi-step model and its consequences for clinical diagnosis, the identification of persons at risk and genetic counseling in RCC families are discussed.