Gary Mokotoff, Editor
Volume 9, Number 22 | September 28, 2008
Happy (Jewish) New Year To All!
Avotaynu has created a Rosh Hashanah e-card for all Nu? What’s New? subscribers. View it at
Mormon/Jewish Controversy. The Problem That Won’t Go Away
No One Has the Right to Involve Other People’s Families in Their Religion
I have been involved for 16 years in the controversy over the Mormon Church’s policy that it is their First Amendment right to posthumously baptize Jews, including Holocaust victims. It was in 1992 that the Jewish genealogical community discovered that 128,000 German Jews and tens of thousands of Dutch Jews murdered in the Holocaust were posthumous baptized into the Mormon faith.
I have pondered the problem almost daily, struggling to find a justification for this practice and have mostly kept quiet. But two incidents in recent months have made me decide to go public with my view on the matter. The first was the Mormon response to the directive by the Vatican that Roman Catholic parishes should no longer permit the Mormon Church to make copies of their records. The Mormon response was that this edict would stifle historical research. It is likely true, but the villain is the Mormon Church, not the Catholic Church. The copies of these records are not only being used for record preservation—as the Mormons told the Catholic parishes—but are also being used to posthumously baptize Catholics on a massive basis through the Mormon Church’s Extraction Program.
The second incident occurred only two weeks ago. Officials of the Church accepted an invitation by representatives of the Holocaust survivor movement to meet in New York on September 18 to explain why posthumous baptism of Holocaust victims has continued unabated despite the agreement signed in 1995 to virtually end the practice. At the last minute, the Church cancelled the meeting.
No one has the right to involve other people’s families in their religion
It is time for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to end its doctrine that their mission is the salvation of the entire human race both living and dead. Mormon posthumous baptism of every deceased member of the human race is wrong. No one has the right to involve other people’s families in their religion.
Rationalizing faith-based beliefs
The Church has attempted to rationalize this faith-based belief by saying that it is a proffered baptism—the dead can always turn it down. What they do not say is there is a severe penalty for turning down the baptism. It is a Mormon’s belief that anyone who turns down the baptism cannot live in Heaven in the presence of God.
It can be added that if the Church has the faith-based belief that a dead person living in Heaven can make the decision to turn down the baptism, then the Church must believe that a dead person can be asked first if s/he wants to be baptized. If the answer is “no,” then the Church should not perform the rite. Why is the LDS Church unwilling to baptize me without my permission, yet they are willing to baptize my deceased father without his permission?
Religious doctrines change
Religions constantly change their doctrine, often based on the state of the times. It was in 1840 that the founder of the Mormon faith, Joseph Smith, stated he had a divine revelation that Mormon men should be polygamous. He stated it was a religious requirement that they take more than one wife. In 1891 the Church ended polygamy after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld anti-polygamy laws and the U.S. government stated that Utah Territory could not become a state unless polygamy ended. It once was Mormon doctrine that men should be polygamous. Today it is Mormon doctrine that polygamy is grounds for excommunication.
After the Holocaust, Jewish women whose husbands died wanted to remarry. Jewish doctrine demands that she prove her previous husband was no longer alive to eliminate the possibility of bigamy. Did the rabbis conclude that these women could not remarry because there was no proof the first husband was gassed at Auschwitz? No, they came to the practical conclusion that these women could remarry.
The Mormon doctrine of posthumous baptism of the entire human race is not an original doctrine of the Church. It was created 90 years after the founding of the religion—in 1918—by divine revelation of the then President/Prophet of the Church. It is a concept that mostly was unopposed for another 90 years because it was quietly done; the non-Mormon world was unaware of it. But in this Internet age when virtually everything is exposed to public scrutiny, non-Mormons are discovering their deceased loved ones are being involved in the Mormon religion.
What are the words of Mormon baptism?
The Church states that the ritual does not make you a Mormon. But that is not what the words say. A young Mormon, usually between the age of twelve and eighteen, utters the words:
Brother Joseph Jones (the name of the Mormon youth acting as a surrogate), in the name of Jesus Christ, we lay our hands upon your head, for and in behalf of Mordechai Anielewicz (the person being baptized), who is dead, and confirm you a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and say unto you, Receive the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Outside criticism of doctrine of posthumous baptism
This doctrine has already had an impact on relations between the LDS Church and other groups. Holocaust survivors are up in arms about the posthumous baptism en masse of Holocaust victims—men, women and children who were murdered for only one reason: they were Jews. The Roman Catholic Church has banned their parishes from cooperating with the LDS Church in preserving Catholic records, because they do not want these records to be used for Mormon religious purposes. The Russian Orthodox Church has placed a similar ban. In 2003, the Armenian Church condemned the rite.
Posthumous baptism of ancestors solves a very practical problem for people of the Mormon faith. If you convert to the Mormon religion, according to their belief, you have the prospect of living in the presence of God when you die and go to Heaven. But what about your deceased parents who never had the opportunity to convert? They, according to Mormon belief cannot live with you in the presence of God. Hence the need for posthumous baptism; to give the deceased ancestor the ability to convert to the Mormon faith and live in the presence of God with their Mormon descendants.
The present-day Church should limit their rite only to ancestors of Mormons. If they do not, the criticism of this rite by the outside world will never go away and will continue to impact relations between other groups and the Church, its members who wish to assume leadership and political roles, and people of the Mormon faith in general.
No one has the right to involve other people’s families in their religion.
Morse Implements Phonetic Algorithm for Ellis Island Database
Stephen P. Morse has given the Beider-Morse Phonetic Matching System (BMPM) its first practical application: The Gold Form of the Ellis Island Database located at Morse’s One-Step site http://stevemorse.org. It does not replace the Daitch-Mokotoff Soundex (DM) option for searching surnames but is an alternative search method.
People who have used the DM Soundex option on JewishGen or the Ellis Island databases know that a major disadvantage of the system is that it can create an enormous number of false positives—results that seemingly could not be variants of the surname sought. BMPM seeks to address that problem. But BMPM has its faults too—it can generate false negatives; valid surnames may not appear in the results. This especially occurs in Anglicized (American) names based on the European names sounding alike to the American spelling but not phonetically equivalent. For example surnames that contain the European name “Silber-” invariably were Anglicized to “Silver-” even though they are not phonetically identical.
The proper strategy in using the two alternatives is to use the phonetic BMPM first. It uses far more sophisticated techniques than the DM approach and tends to produce more exact results. If you do not find the results you are looking for, then use the soundex variant.
BMPM was developed by Morse and Alexander Beider, author of numerous books published by Avotaynu about Jewish names. Gary Sandler also assisted in the project by helping build the phonetic tables. The project had its genesis in the “Recreation of the Destroyed Communities of the Holocaust ” project of the International Institute of Jewish Genealogy.
NARA Has Online Immigration Indexes
Many years ago books were published that were indexes to passenger arrivals during portions of the 19th century from Germany, Ireland, Italy and Russia. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) now has these indexes on the Internet. They are:
Germans to America 1850–1897
Irish (Famine) 1846–1851
Italians to America 1855–1900
Russians to America 1834–1897
The databases are located at http://aad.archives.gov/aad/series-list.jsp?cat=GP44. The design of the site is a bit awkward. Data about each immigrant includes name, age and destination. Instead of including name of ship and arrival date, a Manifest Identification Number is provided. You must then go back to the page identified above and click the link to Manifest Header Data File to retrieve that information. My solution was to open up two pages (tabs) of my browser both pointing to the above URL. I used one to retrieve the data about the passenger and the second to retrieve the ship’s data.
The definition of “German,” “Irish,” “Italian” and “Russian” is not ethnicity but country of origin. Thus a Russian who came to the U.S. from England and listed his country of origin as “England” is not in the Russians to America database.
NARA has other databases online that they consider of interest to genealogists. They can be linked to at http://aad.archives.gov/aad/index.jsp under “Genealogy/Personal History.”
Mt. Lebanon Cemetery Seventh New York Cemetery Online
Mt. Lebanon Cemetery in Glendale, Queens, New York, is the seventh New York-area Jewish cemetery to place its burials online. There are an estimated 88,000 burials. It is located at http://www.mountlebanoncemetery.com. Steve Lasky reports that the information also includes nearby Hungarian Union Fields Cemetery which is now supervised by Mt. Lebanon cemetery. Lasky added that Knollwood Park cemetery will also be included in the database by the end of the year.
Other cemeteries already online (click on name to link) are:
Mount Ararat Cemetery
Mount Carmel Cemetery
Mount Hebron Cemetery
Mount Moriah Cemetery, Fairview, New Jersey
Mount Zion Cemetery
UK Burials at the Cemeteries of the United Synagogue are Online
Another online cemetery database is under the auspices of the United Synagogue in the UK. It includes Alderney Road E1, Aldershot, Brady Street E1, Bushey, Dover, East Ham, Lauriston Road E9, Plashet, Waltham Abbey, West Ham, Willesden. The database is located at
German Government Releases List of Jewish Residents During Holocaust Period
The German government is releasing to the public a list of Jewish individuals who lived in Germany between 1933 and 1945 “who were persecuted and subjected to discrimination by the National Socialist regime because of their Jewish lineage.” There are some 600,000 people on the list. The news release stated, “The new list will primarily help people to trace their ancestry, but it will also be helpful for scientific research.”
The government will soon be making the list available to the Yad Vashem, Jewish Museum in Berlin, Jewish Claims Conference, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, New Synagogue Berlin - Centrum Judaicum Foundation in Berlin and the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen.
There was no mention of Internet access, but given that some of people are still living, it seems an unlikely possibility.
The complete news release can be found at http://www.bundesregierung.de/Content/EN/Pressemitteilungen/
Australian Passenger Lists
A posting to JewishGen notes that Ancestry.com now has New South Wales, Australia, Unassisted Immigrant Passenger Lists, 1826–1922. They provide the name of the passenger, estimated birth year, port of departure, port of arrival, voyage arrival date, vessel name, origin location (town or country).
There is an Internet site that lists many online indexes and passenger lists for all of Australia. It is located at http://www.coraweb.com.au/shipindex.htm. Many of these indexes are published by government agencies and access to the information is free of charge.
Ancestry.com Adds Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865–1935
Ancestry.com has added Canadian passenger lists, 1865–1935, to its collection. Included are more than 7.2 million names. The collection is fully indexed by name, month, year, ship and port of origin and arrival of more than 4,000 ships, and includes original images for more than 310,000 pages of historical records. The collection includes passenger lists from all the major ports of arrival including Halifax, Saint John, North Sydney, Quebec City, Montreal, Vancouver, Victoria and even east coast ports in the U.S. where many arrived before proceeding directly to Canada overland.
Other New Databases on Ancestry.com of Interest to Jewish Research
Canadian City and Area Directories, 1819–1899
Missouri Birth Records, 1851–1910
Missouri Death Records, 1834–1931
Ancestry.com is a fee-for-service company.
FindMyPast.com Adds 1901 Census of London
Findmypast.com has added to its 1901 census for England and Wales the county of London, comprising over 4.6 million records. The new records join the counties of Surrey, Gloucestershire and Somersetshire, which are already available. It is located at http://www.findmypast.com/CensusPersonStartSearchServlet?censusYear=1901. FindMyPast.com is a fee-for-service company.
“Do I Have Jewish Ancestry?” Addendum
There is an important resource in evaluating whether a surname suggests Jewish ancestry that was left out of the article in the last issue of Nu? What’s New? It is the Mormon International Genealogical Index (IGI). This database reputedly contains more than 700 million people for whom some Mormon rite, usually posthumous baptism, has been performed. It is an excellent source to determine if a surname was borne by Christians. If you find the source of the name is a christening record, clearly the person was Christian. Even a birth record provides a clue. Often the source of the birth information will be listed as Catholic or Evangelical (Protestant). No conclusions can be drawn if these types of records are not in the IGI. The IGI can be accessed at http://www.familysearch.org/eng/Search/frameset_search.asp. To search it exclusively, click on its name to the left of the screen.
Back Issues of Nu? What’s New?
Periodically I catch myself trying to report something in Nu? What’s New? that already appeared in this e-zine. Fortunately there is a archives of all back issues at http://www.avotaynu.com/nu.htm and I catch the error. The principal reason for the problem is that someone posts an item to a JewishGen Discussion Group about something “new” that was already reported in Nu? What’s New?—sometimes years ago.
This e-zine is now in its ninth year of publication. The previous editions are a great resource for Jewish genealogical research. There is a search engine located on the page to assist in locating items of interest.
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