BACKGROUND:The most efficient approach for establishing family histories (FHs) asks informants about disorders in their relatives (a Family History Method [FHM]). However, FHMs underestimate family diagnoses. We evaluated if accuracies of young adult offspring report of their father's alcohol use disorders (AUDs) related to the age, sex, education, and/or substance-related patterns/problems of either the young adult informants or their AUD fathers. METHODS:Data from the San Diego Prospective Study (SDPS), a multigenerational 35-year investigation, compared father/offspring pairs where the proband father's alcohol problems were correctly (Group 1) or incorrectly (Group 2) noted by offspring. In the key analysis, Group 1 versus 2 results were entered into bootstrapped backward logistic regression analyses predicting Group 1 membership. RESULTS:Five proband and one offspring characteristic were associated with correct identification of their father's alcohol problems. None of these related to age, education, or sex. Characteristics associated with correct FHM diagnoses included the father's FH of AUDs, self-report of drinking despite social/interpersonal or physical/psychological alcohol-related problems, spending much time related to alcohol, and his having a religious preference. The single offspring item predicting correct identification of the father's problems was the number of DSM alcohol problems of the offspring. CONCLUSIONS:In the SDPS, FHM sensitivity was most closely related to the father's drinking characteristics, not the offspring characteristics. While unique aspects of SDPS families potentially limit generalizability of results, the data demonstrate how the FHM can offer important initial steps in the search for genetically related AUD risks in a subset of families.