One of the first signs of cell differentiation in the Drosophila melanogaster embryo occurs 3 h after fertilization, when discrete groups of cells enter their fourteenth mitosis in a spatially and temporally patterned manner creating mitotic domains (Foe, V. E. and G. M. Odell, 1989, Am. Zool. 29:617-652). To determine whether cell residency in a mitotic domain is determined solely by cell position in this early embryo, or whether cell lineage also has a role, we have developed a technique for directly analyzing the behavior of nuclei in living embryos. By microinjecting fluorescently labeled histones into the syncytial embryo, the movements and divisions of each nucleus were recorded without perturbing development by using a microscope equipped with a high resolution, charge-coupled device. Two types of developmental maps were generated from three-dimensional time-lapse recordings: one traced the lineage history of each nucleus from nuclear cycle 11 through nuclear cycle 14 in a small region of the embryo; the other recorded nuclear fate according to the timing and pattern of the 14th nuclear division. By comparing these lineage and fate maps for two embryos, we conclude that, at least for the examined area, the pattern of mitotic domain formation in Drosophila is determined by the position of each cell, with no effect of cell lineage.