Previous studies have demonstrated linkage between early-onset breast cancer and ovarian cancer and genetic markers on chromosome 17q21. These markers define the location of a gene (BRCA1) which appears to be inherited as an autosomal dominant susceptibility allele. We analyzed five families with multiple affected individuals for evidence of linkage to the BRCA1 region. Two of the five families appear to be linked to BRCA1. One apparently linked family contains critical recombinants, suggesting that the gene is proximal to the marker D17S579 (Mfd188). These findings are consistent with the maximum-likelihood position estimated by the Breast Cancer Linkage Consortium and with recombination events detected in other linked families. Linkage analysis was greatly aided by PCR-based analysis of paraffin-embedded normal breast tissue from deceased family members, demonstrating the feasibility and importance of this approach. One of the two families with evidence of linkage between breast cancer and genetic markers flanking BRCA1 represents the first such family of African-American descent to be reported in detail.