Family and childhood
Born Emily Drinkard in Newark, New Jersey, to Nitcholas and Delia Mae Drinkard (née McCaskill), she was the eighth and final child; older siblings were brothers William (1918–2003), Hansom (1924–deceased), Nicky (1929–1992), and Larry (1931–2012); and sisters Lee (1920–2005), mother of Dionne Warwick and Dee Dee Warwick, Marie (1922–2007), and Anne (1927–2003).
Houston's father Nitcholas Drinkard was born to Susan Bell (called Delia) Drinkard (née Fuller), of Dutch and African-American descent. His father John Drinkard, Jr., was of Native American descent. The Drinkards had owned a substantial amount of farmland in Blakely, Georgia, at a time when it was unusual for black people to have large landholdings. The asset was gradually depleted as they sold small portions of land over time, to resolve the continued legal troubles of a close relative.
After Houston's three oldest siblings were born, the family relocated to New Jersey during the Second Great Migration. Her parents emphasized the children getting educated and being involved in the church, and her father encouraged Houston and her siblings to sing. In 1938, five-year-old Cissy's mother Delia suffered a stroke and died of cerebral hemorrhage three years later. Houston's father died of stomach cancer in 1951 when Houston was 18. Cissy went to live with her older sister Lee and her husband Mancel Warrick. The Warricks had three children: a son, Mancel Warrick Jr. and two daughters Marie Dionne a/k/a Dionne Warwick and Delia Mae a/k/a Dee Dee Warwick. Renowned soprano Leontyne Price is a Drinkard cousin.
Houston is a Christian, and has said that she "found Christ" at age 14.
Marriages and children
In 1955, Houston married Freddie Garland and had a son, Gary Garland, an NBA basketball player and DePaul University Athletic Hall of Famer. The Garlands divorced two years later. In 1959, she married John Russell Houston, Jr., a Newark City administrator and entertainment executive. The couple had a son, Michael Houston, who became a songwriter, and a daughter, Whitney Houston, who became a world-renowned Soul/R&B/pop singer. Houston's second marriage also ended in divorce. Aretha Franklin was an honorary aunt of Houston's daughter.
In the late 1990s, Houston's daughter Whitney began to struggle with drug addiction. Houston staged several interventions to get her daughter into rehabilitation and recovery programs. On one occasion she obtained a court order and the assistance of two sheriffs to intervene, persuading her daughter to undertake treatment at Hope For Women Residential & Therapeutic Services in Atlanta, Georgia. In her 2013 book, Remembering Whitney: My Story of Love, Loss, and the Night the Music Stopped, Cissy Houston described the scene she encountered at her daughter's house in 2005 as follows: "Somebody had spray-painted the walls and door with big glaring eyes and strange faces. Evil eyes, staring out like a threat... In another room there was a big framed photo of [Whitney Houston] — but someone had cut [her] head out. It was beyond disturbing, seeing my daughter's face cut out like that." This visit led Cissy to return with law enforcement and perform an intervention. Her daughter cycled through recovery, relapse and rehabilitation programs. On February 11, 2012, Whitney Houston died at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles. After her daughter's death, in an interview with the New Jersey TV station WWOR, Houston expressed her distaste of the media's coverage of related events: "The media are awful. People have come from here and there, [and they] don't know what they're talking about," she said. "People I haven't seen in 20 years … Here they come, [they] think they know everything, but that's not true. But God has his way of taking care of all of it, and I'm glad I know that. They really chopped on her, chopped on her … kept, kept, kept." 
Houston has six grandchildren (including the late Bobbi Kristina Brown), and nine great grandchildren.