Proxy baptisms: LDS Church hopes new system thwarts mischief makers
Computer program » But it may not stop inappropriate names from slipping through.
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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."

Mormons submit the lion's share of the historical data, either from private or public sources, typed singly or "extracted" from a list. Thousands of names are entered into the system every day from all over the world. The church continues to reiterate its long-standing policy "to only submit names for temple work of those to whom they are related," Trotter said. "The vast majority of names submitted are done so correctly."

In earlier programs, most new data would include the name of the person who submitted it, as well as which temple rituals, such as baptisms and marriages, had been performed for the deceased. Now that information is available only to Mormons who can produce a membership number and the date they were confirmed 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" files.

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.

Such malfeasance may not be that hard to do in this computer-savvy era.

In 1998, The Salt Lake Tribune found records of temple rituals being done for Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun. The paper traced the submission to a Salt Lake City man who insisted he had neither submitted nor done proxy temple work for the couple and that his name was being used by someone else.

Some have suggested Radkey might be adding the names herself, only to find them later, a charge she vehemently denies.

"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.

Meanwhile, Radkey, who was excommunicated from the LDS Church in the 1970s, has found a way around the church's roadblocks.

Until 2005, she says she used "confidential Mormon sources" to search LDS records for names of Holocaust victims. Later, she simply waited in the Family History Library for patrons to leave their computers without logging out. She then slipped into those terminals to seek out records of any inappropriate baptisms and sealings.

She was expelled from the library for doing this in 2006 and barred from re-entering for three days. She was asked again to leave in 2007 for being "in a secured database."

On Oct. 26 this year, Radkey received a letter from the library, threatening to ban her permanently from the premises if she continued to use other people's terminals. But she no longer needs that method. Now, she says, she simply uses the logon information from Mormon friends to access the system from any computer -- something she could continue to do despite the church's new safeguards.

Gordon Remington, past president of Utah Genealogical Association and a Protestant, doesn't approve of Radkey's tactics. He believes library users should follow rules governing access to its resources, including respecting the church's right to limit knowledge of temple ordinances to practicing Mormons.

"On this, I am squarely in the church's camp," Remington says. "As for 'policing' the names submitted for proxy baptism, my understanding is that it is impractical to do so. ... It is unreasonable, in my opinion, to expect submissions for proxy baptism to be 'policed' for strict conformance to LDS rules for such submissions."

pstack@sltrib.com

A genealogical treasure trove

» The LDS Church's Family History Library, 35 N. West Temple, Salt Lake City, is the largest genealogical library in the world with more than 2 billion names of deceased people.

» It has more than 700 staff and volunteers to assist patrons; nearly 2,000 people visit the library each day.

» The church has some 4,500 family-history centers in 70 countries, with access to many of the resources at the main library.

» The church's Internet site, www.familysearch.org, contains a billion names from more than 110 counties and territories including the 1880 U.S. Census, the 1881 Canadian Census, the 1881 British Census, the Ellis Island database and the Freedman's Bank Records. It is open and available for free.

Source: lds.org

LDS statement

"Church members are asked to only submit names for temple work of those to whom they are related. This is a long-standing policy and it is reiterated regularly. The new version of FamilySearch is a technological deterrent to improper submissions as well. For example, users must certify that the names they are submitting are of family members.

"The vast majority of names submitted are done so correctly. However, due to the millions of names added to the database every year, it is virtually impossible to ensure that no improper submissions are ever made."

LDS statement

"Church members are asked to only submit names for temple work of those to whom they are related. This is a long-standing policy and it is reiterated regularly. The new version of FamilySearch is a technological deterrent to improper submissions as well. For example, users must certify that the names they are submitting are of family members.

"The vast majority of names submitted are done so correctly. However, due to the millions of names added to the database every year, it is virtually impossible to ensure that no improper submissions are ever made."