Medical & Genetic Family History: The Role of the Jewish Genealogist

U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona comments that “Knowing your family history can save your life. Millions of dollars in medical research, equipment, and knowledge can’t give us the information provided by this simple tool. When a health care professional is equipped with a patient’s family health history, he or she can easily assess the inherent risk factors and begin tests or treatment even before any disease is evident.”

Genealogists have not only been documenting their family history but have become the repository of vital medical and genetic history for their families.  With the advent of low-cost genetic testing, the giant leaps in disease identification, the dramatic growth of DNA databanks, and the new science of gene replacement therapy, genealogists have been given an increased opportunity – and responsibility – to contribute to both their own family’s personal health and that of future generations.  

The growing mass of genealogical-related data available online has magnified the ability to find and connect with previously unknown family.  With family history research easier than ever, we genealogists now have previously unimagined opportunities to grab our medical and genetic data and, in tandem with our family trees, use this information to enhance the health of the people in our families.  We can now use our genealogy and genetics to make a difference in the world.  

Stanley Diamond’s quest to document the incidence of the Beta-Thalassemia trait in his extended family was not only the inspiration for the birth of JRI-Poland but became a model for genealogists and family historians dedicated to recording their own families’ genetic and medical history.  Diamond’s research started with an exhaustive study of vital records of Ostrów Mazowiecka, Poland, and neighboring towns, as he sought to identify the earliest carriers and find and warn their descendants who are unsuspecting carriers of the trait. 

Persuading previously unknown family to be documented, and to get close family to cooperate with research is a challenge.  We must combat resistance for whatever reason – embarrassment, indifference or ignorance. Combining genetic, medical and genealogical research involves different methods and special responsibilities. Defining this philosophy, formulating the message, and honing sensitivities are unusual challenges for casual genealogists.  All will be addressed in Diamond’s lecture.

Stanley Diamond was born in 1933 in Montreal, Canada. He studied for his B. Commerce at McGill University, Montreal and his MBA at Harvard. He was the founder and chairman of the Intalite International Group of Companies from 1960-1986.

He has been an active family historian for over 30 years.and genealogist member of the genetic research project team with McGill University  Montreal Children’s Hospital and Hebrew UniversityHadassah Hospital, Jerusalem; His research related to BetaThalassemia genetic trait in Ashkenazi Jewish families (1994-2006)  

Stanley Diamond is the Executive Director of Jewish Records Indexing – Poland (JRI-Poland), a board member of the International Institute for Jewish Genealogy, Secretary of the L’Dor V’Dor Foundation and Executive Committee member of the Documentation of Jewish Records Worldwide (DoJR) Project, and founder and president emeritus of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Montreal. Stanley was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal of Canada (Civil Division) for his work in establishing and directing the JRI – Poland project. Diamond received the Lifetime Achievement Award of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS). His journey was the subject of a documentary by Global TV Canada. He has been a frequent consultant to producers of genealogical television series and has published numerous articles on genealogy.

This lecture was part of the Heshvan Event, November 2022

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.