From 21 January 2020 to 9 February 2020, three family clusters involving 31 patients with coronavirus disease 2019 were identified in Wenzhou, China. The epidemiological and clinical characteristics of the family cluster patients were analysed and compared with those of 43 contemporaneous sporadic cases. The three index cases transmitted the infection to 28 family members 2–10 days before illness onset. Overall, 28 of the 41 sporadic cases and three of 31 patients in the family clusters came back from Wuhan (65.12 vs. 9.68%, P< 0.001). In terms of epidemiological characters and clinical symptoms, no significant differences were observed between the family cluster and sporadic cases. However, the lymphocyte counts of sporadic cases were significantly lower than those of family cluster cases ((1.32 ± 0.55) × 109/l vs. (1.63 ± 0.70) × 109/l, P = 0.037), and the proportion of hypoalbuminaemia was higher in sporadic cases (18/43, 41.86%) than in the family clusters (6/31, 19.35%) (P < 0.05). Within the family cluster, the second- and third-generation cases had milder clinical manifestations, without severe conditions, compared with the index and first-generation cases, indicating that the virulence gradually decreased following passage through generations within the family clusters. Close surveillance, timely recognition and isolation of the suspected or latent patient is crucial in preventing family cluster infection.