08 December 2009

Utah: 'Genealogical pit bull' Helen Radkey

Helen Radkey has been instrumental in uncovering posthumous baptisms of Jews in the LDS church records.

Two stories on Friday in the Salt Lake Tribune focused on her work and the new FamilySearch system that may not stop inappropriate names slipping through. Both quoted well-known Jewish genealogist Gary Mokotoff who signed the 1995 agreement between the LDS church and Jewish Holocaust groups.

"I call her the Erin Brockovich of the Mormon/Jewish controversy," says New Jersey resident Gary Mokotoff, past president of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies who signed the [1995] agreement and feels indebted to Radkey for what he considers impeccable research. "You can defame her any way you want personality-wise, but she's still a whistle-blower."

The first article on Helen is here; it called her a genealogical pit bull who has both defenders and critics in the quest to eliminate what are - to Jews - distasteful Mormon proxy baptisms performed on Jewish Holocaust victims and others.

Helen has uncovered thousands of "inappropriately entered" Holocaust victims, who are then removed and re-entered again as fast as they are removed. She discovered famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal in the International Genealogical Index (IGI); his name was quickly removed after a major media storm.

The first article provides a glimpse of Helen's work:

Both bedrooms are piled high with box after box of file folders, evidence of her decades long drive to undermine the LDS Church's temple ritual in which living Mormons are baptized for a person who has died.

Each folder contains the name and personal information of an individual who has been posthumously baptized. She found the data through the church's Family History Library, poring over its genealogical records and looking for those people she believes ought not be there -- from Catholic saints to offshoot polygamists to infamous scoundrels such as Adolf Hitler and famous people such as President Barack Obama's mother.

Since 1993, she has garnered widespread media attention with every new find. She traveled to Rome several times to "warn" Vatican officials of the growing warmth between Utah's Mormon and Catholic leaders, reporting proxy baptisms of dead Catholics, including martyrs and saints. She alerted Jewish genealogists that Mormons were not keeping their 1995 agreement to stop baptizing Holocaust victims.

The second story by the same reporter is here, and focuses on the new system that the church hopes will thwart mischief makers, although it may not stop inappropriate names from slipping through. And the new system also hides the names of people who inappropriately submit Jewish and other names for temple rites.

The LDS Church now has in place a computer program it believes may halt -- or at least slow -- the submission of incorrect, inappropriate or dubious information into its massive collection of genealogical records.

"The new version of FamilySearch is a technological deterrent to improper submissions," LDS spokesman Scott Trotter said Thursday. "For example, users must certify that the names they are submitting are of family members."

In earlier times, the record included person who had submitted a name, along with which temple rituals had been performed for the deceased individual. Today, those details are secret and open only to church members.

Helen Radkey, the self-appointed whistle-blower on Mormon proxy baptisms, is not
convinced this will do anything but shield the identity of those she claims are
pouring American celebrities and Holocaust victims back into "temple-ready"

LDS leaders and officials at the church's Family History Library declined to be interviewed for this story. They would not say whether any protocols are in place to catch people who are creating mischief by submitting names such as Thomas Edison and Simon Wiesenthal.

While some critics believe Helen has added such names herself, she denies that, as do her supporters.

"There is no reason for me to submit names," she says. "LDS Church members regularly submit names of celebrities or famous people, and names from unapproved lists, such as Jewish Holocaust victims."

Gary Mokotoff, a nationally prominent Jewish genealogist who signed the LDS Church's 1995 agreement to discontinue proxy baptisms for Holocaust victims, calls that allegation "a vicious ugly rumor designed to discredit her and she's absolutely not doing it."

Mokotoff is convinced that because Radkey is such an irritant to LDS officials, they would be the first to expose her. But they haven't.

"This has never been brought up in any discussions with the church," Mokotoff says. "The church has never publicly discredited her."

LDS officials refused to say whether they have investigated to find out who has entered inappropriate names into the system.

The continuing problem with Jewish records appearing in the LDS collection has convinced Mokotoff that LDS officials had no intention of honoring their 1995 accord.

"They could do things today and they are not doing it," he says. "The church knows who the culprits are. They say it's because of overzealous Mormons, but there has been no reprimand of overzealous Mormons."

The church would not say if it has sanctioned any members for misusing the system.

Radkey finds data in roadblock workarounds, which include confidential sources, using Family History Library terminals when previous users left without logging out, and the log-ins of Mormon friends.

Read both stories to learn more about Australian-born Helen's quest, why she does what she does, how she got started in July 1993 discovering that the Mormons had proxy baptised Catholic martyrs, and her premonition about what would be her work with Jews.

After 1995, when the church agreed to remove more than 350,000 Jewish Holocaust names from the records, she looked to see if the names were back on the list. And, by 2000, some 19,000 had again been entered.

Salt Lake City Rabbi Benny Zippel (of Congregation Bais Menachem) is distressed about the proxy baptism of Holocaust victims, and he's quoted:

Any kind of proxy baptism "is morally offensive and deeply hurtful to both the survivors of the Holocaust," he says, "as well as to the souls of those who died and laid down their lives for their faith."

However, he wanted nothing to do with Helen's efforts, as he says "I don't like nurturing or enhancing negative energy," and has had positive interaction with the LDS church leaders.

The issue is often billed as the "Jewish/Mormon controversy that won't go away." To read more about the details of agreements signed by the LDS church and more on the history, go to JewishGen.org and read this infofile, written by Bernard I. Kouchel.


  1. In about 1993, I discovered the Mormons had been baptizing my Jewish ancestors - the Vasen, Weidenthal, and Eschner families.
    I called them up and basically screamed at them. I actually think they may have gotten the names from Yad Vasheem archives and that totally flipped me out. I told them I would sue the crap out of them if they didn't remove my family from their records, and boy, did they move fast! Disgusting, is all I have to say.

  2. Keep in mind that temple baptism work does not automatically make the deceased a "Mormon."

    Our beliefs state that those who have died are to be given a chance to accept the teachings of the LDS Church in the hereafter.

    Given a chance.

    That means they are free to accept or reject the ordinance. If they reject it, the baptism performed in the temple is of no effect whatsoever.

    This does not automatically make them Mormons. I wish people would understand this in the debate.

    It's no more disrespectful than sending out pairs of missionaries to knock on doors. Or taking out advertising space online.