26 August 2006

Was Zayde a Mormon? The controversy over posthumous baptisms

In 1995, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are known as LDS or Mormons, signed an agreement with the heads of many Jewish organizations, in which the church agreed to stop posthumous baptism of Jews, particularly of Holocaust victims, and remove the names of “inappropriately entered” individuals.

Since then, ongoing meetings have done little to address the practice except to provide a way to remove the names of those “inappropriately” entered into their International Genealogical Index. The IGI has a public section, available to all, and a private section, which holds the details of church rites performed on an individual. The private section is only accessible with a church-supplied password for its members.

To see if your Jewish ancestors have been entered in the IGI, go to www.familysearch.org, and do a search for results in the IGI, not the Social Security Death Index database.

This volatile issue and its continued practice, despite the signed agreement, is taken very seriously by many Jewish family history researchers. While some say they don’t care what non-Jewish rites are performed on Jews after death because it won’t change anything, many others feel that subjecting those who lived and died as Jews (and were murdered because they were) to baptism is a repugnant, insulting act.

A third group believes the process creates fraudulent records. They fear the possibility of future generations researching their families and seeing grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles and ancestors of long ago listed in the IGI. Descendants will think that Zayde (grandfather in Yiddish) was a Mormon, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Researcher Helen Radkey has proven over the years that thousands of Holocaust victims and others who were buried in Jewish cemeteries or listed in Jewish organization records have been similarly baptized after the signing of the 1995 agreement which was to have ended the practice.

Additionally, Radkey discovered that the lack of quality control on data entry by church members has resulted in the strange phenomena of cartoon character Mickey Mouse and even the Easter Island stone statues being accorded church rites.

Genealogist Gary Mokotoff has attended all the Salt Lake City meetings between Mormon and Jewish representatives. He provided a brief report of the most recent meeting to the Jewish genealogical society delegates at the recently concluded International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, which offered some hope that an entry pre-screening process would be instituted.

A detailed report of the latest meeting appears in Mokotoff's Nu? What's New bi-weekly newsletter.

To read about the London Beth Din and how those Jewish records ended up in the IGI, go to www.avotaynu.com/nu/V07N12.htm. For the detailed report of the latest meeting, see www.avotaynu.com/nuwhatsnew.htm. For more on the controversy and the 1995 agreement, www.jewishgen.org/InfoFiles/ldsagree.html


  1. Anonymous7:47 AM

    My alte zayde got on the IGI because his son (my great uncle) was married in NYC in 1905 and the LDS extracted their names from the marriage license records. Those of you who are excited by the recrods that your find in your FHL should know HOW the records got there and that the extractions are not always on the up and up. Beware, someday it could be your name that a descendent finds there and think that you converted. Beware of revisionism! Congratulations to Shelley for touching this topic.

  2. Schelly, my zayde is also listed on the IGI, his and my bubbe's names having also been extracted from their marriage records, which I previously found on Italiangen.
    Please clarify for me the following; if their names are entered on the IGI database, does that confirm that they have been "baptized"?
    Thanks for your great blog.

  3. Mordechai, the individuals listed in the IGI have either been posthumously baptized or are in line for same.
    The only way, however, to find out the details of where and when these individuals were subjected to these rites is with a password given only to church members. Researchers who have been able to use such passwords have found thousands of records.
    There is a mechanism to complain about your relatives' "inappropriate" IGI inclusion and ask that they be removed from the IGI.

  4. Anonymous11:42 AM

    My mother who was born a Baptist, converted to Mormon late in her life. I also have a cousin who is a member of the church and I have sent her the info on the controversy as well as state I would be offended if my father is baptised posthumously as he followed the Jewish faith all his life and was buried according to the Jewish faith. Now I find him in the IGI. Hopefully he is there because of my mother and not because he was baptized. If he was, is there anything I can do about it?