By: Lara Diamond

Lara Diamond’s grandfather was a Holocaust survivor who lost touch with his aunt during the war. Decades later, Lara used FamilyTreeDNA to find her aunt’s descendants and reunite her family.

My paternal grandparents, Paul and Sonia (nee Bajcz) Diamond, were Holocaust survivors.

My grandmother often spoke about her experiences but my grandfather seldom did. In the early 1990s, several years before he died, he told me I could ask him all my questions about his family.

Paul Diamond

I asked about his aunts and uncles, and he said that he had “Aunt Shaindel, but she was lost.” So I recorded “Shaindel Diamond, killed in the Holocaust, 1942” in my Family Tree Maker for DOS (which I’d purchased with babysitting money) and didn’t search for her any further.

Fast forward to 2013, when I ordered a Family Finder test from FamilyTreeDNA. I was excited when my results came in—and there were a lot of matches, even at that early date. Genetic genealogy among Ashkenazic Jews is known to be interesting as well as frustrating.

Because Jews marry within the Jewish community, with little outside DNA being introduced, we’re not a very genetically diverse community.

Understanding Endogamy and Surprising DNA Connections in My Family

We are what is called an endogamous population. On the genetic genealogy front, this means that the closeness of relationships is amplified. In the general population, if someone is predicted to be your fourth cousin, they’re probably your fourth cousin—or maybe your third or fifth.

In the Jewish community, you’re probably related in multiple ways, so you will share a surprising amount of DNA. Your predicted fourth cousin may be a tenth cousin (and an eleventh cousin in three different ways).

My parents are predicted to be fourth cousins, yet I have documented their families on paper as living quite far apart, at least back to the early 1800s. But, in some way, I’m my own cousin.

At the time, I was surprised to find so many relatively close matches—which I now understand is because of endogamy—and I concentrated on contacting all of my matches near the top of the list. There was one match named Dave who was predicted to be a second cousin with a range of first through third cousins being possible. I reached out to Dave, asking if he saw a connection.

Who Was Jenny Diamond? Tracing Her Journey from Russia to America

Dave quickly responded that his great grandmother’s maiden name was Jenny Diamond. Diamond/Dimant is actually a relatively common Jewish surname. I “knew” that all of my Diamond relatives had been killed in the Holocaust, but I asked Dave if he knew where his great grandmother Jenny Diamond Dorfman was from or what her parents’ names were. He only knew that she was from Russia.

Jenny and Morris Dorfman

However, he also enclosed a transcript of a letter that Jenny’s daughter Ida had written in 1980 that talked about leaving Russia. Ida told how she had been living with her grandmother, uncle, mother, and little brother while her father worked in America.

Once her father earned money, he sent passage for the family. Ida told about when they left Russia, leaving her grandmother in tears, to join her father. She did not mention the town she was from, but she did mention the date that she arrived in America.

Exploring Biscupice and the Diamond Heritage

Genetic genealogy doesn’t stand on its own; it’s another tool in the genealogy toolkit along with traditional paper trail research. With this DNA match hint from FamilyTreeDNA and Dave’s information, I quickly found the Dorfmans—Scheine, Chaje, and Hersh L (who became Jenny, Ida, and Harry in America).

I looked over at the birth town and got goosebumps. They were from Biscupice, the same village where my grandfather had been born.

Biscupice was a small village in what is now Volhynia, Ukraine, just northeast of Horochiv. It looked like we were definitely related on the Diamond side! But we still had to figure out the exact connection. Could this Scheine be the Shaindel that my grandfather had mentioned? Or was it just a family name?

Unveiling Family Connections in Detroit

Dave said that Jenny had died in Detroit. A quick search of a Jewish cemetery index out of Detroit led to Jenny’s burial location. I put a request for her picture on FindAGrave, hoping that someone would be able to take a photo of the gravestone. (Jewish gravestones generally have the deceased’s father’s name.)

The very next day, a volunteer posted a photo. When I saw it, the goosebumps returned. It said that she was Shaindel daughter of Hillel. Hillel Diamond was my great-great-grandfather. This was the Aunt Shaindel that my grandfather had mentioned 20+ years before! And the uncle and grandmother that Ida had mentioned living with were my great-grandfather Avraham and my great-great-grandmother Hinda Diamond!

Photo taken by Gerard Brownstone on May 21, 2013 and uploaded to

Our family’s hypothesis is that perhaps my grandfather knew she existed, and probably his parents wrote to her in America. But a teenage boy (as my grandfather was when the war started) probably just knew that they got letters from and sent letters to Aunt Shaindel in America. But if he didn’t know her married name or where she lived, she would have been lost to him. So even after he came to America, he had no way to find Aunt Shaindel in America!

Reconnecting Long-Lost Family

It turns out there are lots of relatives in Detroit. Jenny had six children and 17 grandchildren. Dave, the original DNA match, is one of her great grandchildren—which means that he’s actually my third cousin. DNA surprisingly reconnected a family that didn’t realize they were missing the other part. Some of the Detroit cousins have visited my Maryland branch, and some of my Maryland relatives (including myself) have visited the cousins in Detroit.

The Diamond cousins reunited 100+ years later.

Had it not been for a FamilyTreeDNA match, I would not have been looking for my presumed-killed Aunt Shaindel, and our family wouldn’t have been reunited.

So what’s happening now with the Diamond Family? You can read more about Lara’s “Diamond Family” Research on her blog.

About The Author

Lara Diamond

Lara Diamond began researching her own family around 1989. She has traced all branches of her family multiple generations back in Eastern Europe using Russian Empire-era and Austria-Hungarian Empire records.

Most of her personal research is in modern-day Ukraine, with a smattering of Belarus and Poland. She has done client research leading to their ancestors in many parts of the former USSR, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania and more.

Lara is president of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Maryland and is JewishGen’s Subcarpathia Research Director. She has lectured around the country and internationally on Jewish and Eastern European genealogy research as well as genetic genealogy. She also runs multiple district- and town-focused projects to collect documentation to assist all those researching ancestors from common towns. Lara also blogs about her Eastern European and Jewish research.