Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Helen Radkey

This is another in a series of encyclopedia-like articles written by the Ancestry Insider. Some serve as extensions to my failing memory while others give me someplace to link to for information that may not be known by all readers.

Helen Radkey

Helen Radkey, courtesy
Helen Radkey

"Helen Radkey is an international renowned religion and genealogical researcher, writer and lecturer," according to her speaker bio from the 2003 convention of American Atheists. In 2002, Alana Newhouse, interviewed Radkey for an article in the Jewish newspaper Forward. Newhouse identified Radkey as a minister in the independent Universal Life Church, a tarot card reader, a former Catholic, an excommunicated Mormon and a past-life therapist who makes ends meet as a bookstore employee.

But Radkey seems to have found her calling in life researching the International Genealogical Index (IGI). Find an article critical of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes called the Mormon Church) and its practice of performing baptisms for deceased individuals and you will find Radkey's name.

In addition to Jewish Holocaust victims, her past revelations about the IGI have disclosed that vicarious temple rituals have been performed for famous saints, sinners and fictional characters. (Reuters) Radkey's revelations about the IGI are consistent with the way she described her writing to the American Atheists: "provocative and controversial."

Yet Radkey is a woman of contradictions.

Radkey has pitted Jews against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "She has been a prime mover behind the outcry over posthumous Jewish baptisms... She's a darn good part of the reason why anything has gotten done on this issue." (Forward)

On one hand, "according to Radkey, ... the church has not properly monitored the names offered for baptisms." On the other hand, she says, "Learning about Jewish names is a specialized skill, which took me years to develop, and it is not always possible to know by a name if the person was Jewish. Most Mormons who handle the processing, including deletions, of Jewish names from the Mormons' database would not know a Jewish name from the back end of a hoe." (Forward)

Radkey has pitted Jews against Catholics. "I can't be a part of any church that did what the [Catholic] Church did to the Jews," she said. (Forward)

Radkey has pitted gays against Catholics. "The Catholic Church ... is out of touch with social reality on the gay issue and has itself caused immeasurable damage to society because of its large number of pedophile priests." (Deseret News)

Radkey has pitted Catholics against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "I personally had a meeting with Vatican officials in November 1998 over the proxy baptism of Catholic saints and popes, so I'm happy to see some kind of resolution [against the Church of Jesus Christ...]," she said. (KSL)

Radkey has pitted Jews against Jews, saying, "Why have these Jewish leaders collectively abdicated their moral and ethical responsibility to ensure that the provisions of the agreement [between Jewish groups and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] are finally and firmly enforced?" ( "In an e-mail sent to Aaron Breitbart, senior researcher at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Radkey lashed out at [Ernest] Michel, [chairman of the World Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors]. (Forward) Forward observed that "to seasoned observers, hearing this Catholic-cum-Mormon-cum-wannabe-Jew telling an esteemed Holocaust survivor and organizational leader how to represent a Jewish cause might seem like some sort of interfaith 'Twilight Zone.' "

On one hand, Radkey expresses a desire to be part of Judaism. On the other hand, she says "the rabbis here don't want me." (Forward)

Radkey has pitted the Church against Jewish groups. In September of 2002 Radkey asked the Church to pay $30,000 plus continued payments if she would give them a list of Jewish names she had uncovered in the IGI. The Church declined. (Forward) Later that year, Ernest Michel met with the Church armed with a report prepared for him by Radkey. (CNN)

Throughout the contradictions, Radkey's self description remains true: "provocative and controversial."


  1. Insider,

    On the matter of this continuing controversy with various Jewish organizations, I was speaking with the director of the local FHC this past week about this. Although I personally as a non-Mormon accept the word of LDS leaders that they are both serious about preventing such random (unrelated to the submitter) temple ordinances and have taken steps to do same, I made the point that I think more is needed, as in visible enforcement.

    Thus if a Mormon does continue to make such submissions of holocaust victims unrelated to him/her, they should be punished by your church in an appropriate manner. Thus actions would be seen by outsiders to match words, and future scattered rare occasions of such actions by "rogue" submitters would be taken for same and not chalked up to deception in words or failure to act.

    I was informed that under NFS, such submissions would be virtually eliminated. Do you understand this to be the case? That is, in addition to the check box you mention, would a submitter also have to lie again by claiming to be related to someone they were not in submitting a temple ordinance? And if such a person were caught, what action would your church then take?

    It would be nice for this issue to be put to bed once and for all as it only distracts from the various partnerships the LDS Church has engaged in with other denominations and organizations to advance genealogy and access to records.


  2. Mike,

    Thanks for your response. Now that I'm inside FamilySearch, I've seen ancient (pre-1970) Genealogical Society of Utah policy statements concerning placing society sanctions upon Church members that continually violated the temple submission policies of that time. I have no idea if policies for imposing sanctions will be created for New FamilySearch. While the current process, TempleReady, doesn't require a submitter to identify himself, I'm pleased that the New FamilySearch does track the submitter's identity. Once the entire Church is on NFS, it will at least be possible to do something about "rogue" submitters.

    While NFS will make it possible to identify submitters after-the-fact, trying to prevent the submission would require a comprehensive list of holocaust victims with complete vital statistics that submissions could be checked against. Even then, it is difficult for a machine to make the complex decisions that genealogists must make when determining whether two records refer to the same individual.

    -- The A.I.


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