There are few data exploring clustering of osteoporotic fractures within families. The aim of this study was to determine the influence of maternal and paternal history of hip fracture on the risk of vertebral deformity. 12,816 men and women aged 50 to 75 years were recruited from population based sampling frames across Europe. Subjects were invited to attend by letter of invitation for an interviewer administered questionnaire and lateral spinal radiographs. Vertebral deformity was defined morphometrically using the McCloskey-Kanis method. 6.4% of men and 7.1% of women reported that their mother had suffered a hip fracture, while 1.7% of both men and women reported that their father had suffered a hip fracture. A maternal history of hip fracture was associated with a modest increased risk of vertebral deformity in men [odds ratio (OR) 1.3, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.0-1.8], the risk being greater among those aged 65 years and over (OR = 1.5; 95% CI 1.0-2.4) and in those from low prevalence areas. There was no increased risk in women. Paternal history of hip fracture was not associated with vertebral deformity in either sex. In conclusion, maternal history of hip fracture appears to be a risk factor for vertebral deformity, particularly in men.