Cells in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans arise from invariant cell lineages. Mutations in two genes, unc-86 and lin-4, alter multiple and mutually exclusive sets of these lineages. In these mutants, particular cells repeat division patterns normally associated with their parental or grandparental progenitors. The effects of unc-86 are highly specific, altering in equivalent ways the lineages of three post-embryonic neuroblasts that in the wild-type undergo similar division patterns. The effects of lin-4 are more varied, resulting in a number of types of lineage reiterations as well as in supernumerary molts and the continued synthesis of larval-specific cuticle. The reiteration of a given cell division or pattern of cell divisions leads to the repeated generation of cells indistinguishable (by both light and electron microscopy) from those produced after the same division or pattern of cell divisions in the wild-type. This correlation between lineage history and cell fate suggests that in C. elegans a particular sequence of cell divisions may be necessary for the generation of a particular cell type. Reiterative lineages, often referred to as stem cell lineages, may be basic to the development of nematodes and other organisms. We suggest that the wild-type unc-86 and lin-4 genes act to modify latent reiterative cell lineages, which are revealed when the activity of one of these genes is eliminated.