Advances in genetic linkage strategies, including techniques of molecular genetics, augur well for the discovery of disease-related genes in mental disorders. Recent studies showing linkage of chromosomal loci to bipolar affective illness and schizophrenia attest to the potential in the 'new genetics'. However, the failure to replicate some of the early findings has led to calls for re-evaluation of the methodology in psychiatric research. Problems in studying complex (psychiatric) disorders include diagnostic uncertainties, unclear mode of transmission, aetiological heterogeneity, cohort effects, and assortative mating. Knowing the potential pitfalls in linkage analysis of mental illness should avert spurious findings and will increase the prospects of success.