We investigated the familial associations of asthma and atopic disease in a population in which the prevalence of asthma and atopy is increasing. Interviewer administered abbreviated family history questionnaires were applied in 416 families with a total of 1005 children ascertained through index children attending fracture and dressing clinics. The prevalence of reported asthma (22.5%), eczema (24%) and hayfever (20%) in the children was high but similar to previous studies in this population. Asthma was reported in 20.8% of children of parents without a history of asthma and 18% of children of parents without any history of atopic disease. Logistic regression analysis of outcomes in the index children showed increased risk of atopic disease associated with parental history of the same atopic disease. The presence of an affected sibling was associated with an increased risk of eczema (OR 3.04 CI 1.83-5.05) or hayfever (OR 1.79 CI 0.97-3.3) but not asthma (OR 1.18 CI 0.66-2.08). Increasing number of siblings was associated with reduced risk although this was significant only for hayfever (OR 0.62 CI 0.41-0.86). Although the presence of affected relatives is associated with an increased risk of atopic disease the high prevalence of reported atopic disease, particularly asthma. in children of parents without a family history of atopic disease suggests that much of the increase in asthma prevalence is occurring in children without a significant genetic predisposition. Childhood asthma developing in what would previously have been regarded as low risk families may differ in its aetiology from classical atopic asthma.