Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Aunt Shaindel was Lost -- and Found (A DNA Success Story)

Genetic genealogy is relatively new.  Basically, you send in a sample (cheek swab or saliva in a test kit) to a company, they sequence your DNA, and they then compare similarities in your DNA to others who have taken the test.  They then give you potential matches with a predicted relationship based on shared DNA.

Genetic genealogy with Ashkenazic Jews is known to be...interesting.  And frustrating.  Because Jews married within the Jewish community with little outside DNA being introduced, we're not a very genetically diverse community--we are what is called an endogamous population.  On the genetic genealogy front, this means that 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 multiple ways, so you will share a surprising amount of DNA.  Your predicted fourth cousin may be a tenth cousin (and an eleventh cousin 3 different ways).  My parents are predicted to be fourth cousins, but I have documented their families on paper living quite far apart at least back to the early 1800s.  But in some way, I'm my own cousin.

So anyways, I have a ton of predicted third and fourth cousins.  And in general, I haven't managed to figure out the connection to most of them, since they're likely much further removed.  I was able to verify known relationships when known cousins have tested.  I also showed that I was not a princess switched at birth, since I genetically match close relatives on both my parents' sides.
My second cousin match

But then a prospective second cousin match popped up on familytreedna.  The match's name was completely unfamiliar to me.  I have a stock message that I send to the closer DNA matches with my family names and the towns that they lived in, so I send them to this guy Dave, asking if he saw a connection.  He quickly responded that his great grandmother's maiden name was Jenny Diamond.

My grandfather, Paul Diamond, was a Holocaust survivor.  His parents (Avraham Tzvi and Tzivia Suttleman Diamond) were killed by the Nazis, as were his siblings Kreina Diamond Mazurek (with her husband David and their young daughter Rivka) and Shlomo Diamond.  One brother (David) and one sister (Deborah) survived, and the three surviving siblings ended up in Baltimore (a story for another post).  My grandfather never was one to talk much about his experiences during the war.  I knew much more about what my grandmother went through.  I'd spoken to my grandfather in the early 1990s about his family, and he'd said that his father had siblings named Leibish, Shaindel, Rivka, Esther, and Basya--but that they had been lost.  I assumed this meant they had been killed in the war, so I didn't ask any more questions.  Growing up, when someone asked me if I was related to a particular Diamond, I generally answered that unless they were in my immediate family, probably not.  Could this Dave be related on the Diamond side?

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.  However, he also enclosed a transcript of a letter that Jenny's daughter Ida had written in 1980 that talked about leaving Russia.  She 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.  I quickly jumped onto looked for the boat record.
Dorfman family boat record (lines 22-24), 1913
With the arrival date known, 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.  So 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?

Dave said that Jenny had died in Detroit.  I found that Detroit has an online Jewish Cemetery Index!  A quick search led to where Jenny was buried.  I put a request for her picture on findagrave, hoping that someone would be able to take a photo of the gravestone which would have her father's name.  The very next day, a volunteer had 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 ago!  And the uncle and grandmother that Ida had mentioned living with were my great-grandfather Avraham and my great-great grandmother Hinda Diamond!  The hypothesis is that he knew she existed, and probably his parents wrote to her in America.  But a teenaged 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!

It turns out there are lots of relatives in Detroit.  Jenny had 6 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 were missing the other part.  Lost Aunt Shaindel has been found!
Jenny & Morris Dorfman

Want to get future blog posts emailed to you automatically?
Enter your email address:


  1. Amazing and gripping story. Thanks Lara.

  2. Nice! This looking for people via DNA is difficult, frustrating and full of what seem to be false positives. But one find like this makes it all worthwhile.

    Israel Pickholtz, Jerusalem

  3. Could you possibly be related to Dorf from Biskupice (later Antwerp, Belgium)?

    Which DNA kit should I order?

    1. Very possible, as Biscupice was so small. The father of Morris, who married this aunt, was Ezriel according to his tombstone.

      I'd suggest testing through which has the largest database of Jews who have tested as well as myself and this newly-found cousin. You want their FamilyFinder test for this, which is currently on sale.

  4. Lara I got your message, and I have sent you a friend request. I have a copy of the letter somewhere explaining the journey across in the boat, and being moved in the dead of night. This is seriously amazing. Thank you for finding me!

  5. Wonderful story! Mazel tov on your detective work!

  6. Thank you for sharing this great success story!

  7. Beautiful story Cousin, thank you for sharing it! I am yet encouraged to continue searching.

  8. What a happy discovery! I greatly enjoyed reading about how these branches of your family were reunited. Wonderful story!

  9. I also have Diamonds in the family, in fact a Paul Diamond as well.

  10. Could the name Diamond have been Domnitz at one time?
    I'm searching for the paternal side for my adopted cousin.
    My cousin is a distant (4th-6th) cousin to S.D administered by you (Lara) on ancestry, but shares close relatives with S.D.. Such as Yevgeny Zlotchenko , as well as Berman. Garber is a name that shows up often on his ancestry lists. He has a half sister on ancestry who, sadly has not responded to his messages.
    He has Domnitz close cousins and I found a couple of people whose names were Diamond- Domnitz.
    Jacob (Yankel) Domnitz (Diamond)
    Domnitz is a town in Germany so people might have taken that name when Jews were required to use surnames.
    Lauren Marems
    PS thank you Israel Pickholtz for all the work you do.

    1. While it could have been, I have records from in Europe that are consistent with the name being Dimond/Dimant and related spellings.

      4th-6th cousins on Ancestry when you're Jewish is likely further away. If you transfer your cousin to GedMatch, I can see if the segment sizes look compelling in suggesting a closer relationship.

  11. Hi,
    thank you.
    he is on gedmatch. kit number m825204.
    Stephen Forer.


    1. Unfortunately it doesn't look like a great match, particularly due to endogamy. Check out what to look for in a match here:

  12. Hi,
    thank you Lara. Very good blog and helpful charts. I have to spend some time there to see what you have done. Even I share segments with my adopted cousin Stephen.

    My cousin tested on all three sites so I’m hoping he’ll get a second cousin match some day. He does have a “predicted” 3rd cousin on the Ashkenazi side with whom he shares 8 segments 159 CMS. It’s on ancestry so I can’t see how long the segments are, but she would probably fall into the unknown relationship 1 on your chart. She's only half Askenazi as well which helps. She gave me names going back a couple of generations so I'm working on that now.
    I do have a known 2nd cousins who shares the same amount of CMS and segments as my cousins match shares with him.