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FATAL INHERITANCE: MORMON EUGENICS

by Linda Walker

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My cousin Lucky and I were looking for four leaf clovers in the grass. The early blue summer sun warmed our backs, not too hot, just right. This weekend visit with my cousins was a perfect end to the school year. Soon Lucky’s sister, Julie, joined our lazy search for the magic clovers.

Many summer passed and Lucky, Julie and I all grew up to marry and start families of our own. Then, while still a young man, Lucky died of nephritis, the fatal family inheritance. Each family member in their own way carried the burden of Lucky’s failing kidneys. His father donated one of his own healthy kidneys, thus prolonging Lucky’s short adulthood with his wife and small children. Fear began to overwhelm me, for the future, and for my own son. Lucky was the first to die in my generation.

I remembered the studies conducted on my brother and I as children at the University of Utah (U of U) when doctors pronounced us, a special and important family. In the l950’s, research doctors thought we were one of the few families in the world with this form of nephritis, known as Alport’s syndrome.[1] By l980, this theory changed dramatically as many other Utah families accepted the diagnosis. Our ancestral destiny meant we might give birth to sons who would die at maturity or daughters who would carry the trait to the next generation of sons. These defects could be life threatening like nephritis and spinal bifida, or merely debilitating like asthma. Childbirth would be fraught with despair and guilt for me and for many family members. We participated in the study but never received counseling regarding the results of this research. I never knew if I carried this deadly disease or if any preventative measures would halt its insidious march. This lack of information upset me as a child when to my fervent, “Why?” the tightlipped adult answer, “We don’t know”, seemed woefully inadequate. I promised myself to find out the truth when I grew up.             

When Lucky died my childish vow surfaced and I began to look into my family history for some answers. My great grandfather, like scores of English immigrants eager to escape a life of poverty, listened when Mormon missionaries offered passage to America in exchange for Mormon baptism. Soon he joined the Mormons in Zion, the new Promised Land, trading a life of mining for religious hope.             

A few years later Lucky’s sister, Julie, died of multiple sclerosis, also leaving a family of small children behind. Same family, second child, same period of life, a different fatal disease; was there a connection? My aunt and uncle outlived two of their five children and two more may have nephritis. What was going on in my Utah pioneer family? Surely, there were too many deaths. Could my childish intuition that,  ‘the adults and doctors lips were sealed’, against my questions, involve family secrets; secrets relatives took to their graves rather than betray? Or was it true no one knew the answers, because they could not be known, because no one wanted to know?        

For the first time, the faith promoting stories about my great grandfather’s heroism for defying the federal government when they outlawed polygamy interested me. Family lore indicates he was a courageous fighter for religious freedom and found himself unjustly incarcerated for continuing his polygamy lifestyle after its outlaw by federal and state statute. Previously I paid little attention to Mormon history, rejecting that belief system primarily because of political differences with the Mormon leadership over civil rights and peace issues in the 1960’s. This great-grandfather married two sisters which meant the twenty-two known children were double cousins or as genetically similar as brother and sister. I began to think polygamy might be a genetically unsound marriage practice. Not only were there possibly too few fathers making it easier for defects to clump in the large interrelated kindred but succeeding generations of children from these isolated rural Mormon towns married within a few kindred as well. Throughout the world, most polygamy is exogamous, or breeding outside the group. Breeding within, as Mormons did, endogamous polygamy, is virtually never practiced. Had these defects clumped in my own family as it seemingly appeared to me?              

While discussing health problems at a family gathering with some of my cousins’ wives, we discovered astonishingly that three out of four of us, all polygamy descendants, had borne a son with a clubfoot. Fortunately, this genetic deformity is correctable with proper care, is also a common defect, but not that common. One outspoken Mormon matriarch who attended the same Sunday meeting for fifty years commented about the health of the polygamous descendants versus the monogamous descendants, “You see it in the obituaries. So many young people.” [2]

            Another woman revealed how frustrated and angry she was over her brother’s death, a brother who died because of undiagnosed epilepsy, possibly needlessly. “My parents would never face it. First, he had a car accident during a seizure, yet they could not admit he was not perfect. While swimming he had another seizure and drowned. We are hierarchy children. The tendency is not to admit it if anything is wrong, since we are supposedly perfect.” [3]                    

            The ‘hierarchy children’ are from the ‘elite’ first families of Mormonism and these families started polygamy in America. Nearly all the Mormon founding families were relatives, so the first polygamists enjoyed relations to different degrees when the divine experiment began. The Twelve Apostles of Mormonism then acted to increase this familial relationship by marrying other relatives until in 1877, at the end of Brigham Young’s reign as Mormon Prophet and King, the polygamous hierarchy became l00% interrelated.[4] D. Michael Quinn, former Brigham Young University Professor, states “The Mormon practice of polygamy enabled men to marry daughters, nieces, cousins, granddaughters and former wives of other General Authorities”. [5] Did this practice affect my family and other Mormon pioneer families adversely, possibly even in other momentous ways? Mormon folklore claims otherwise.

Genetics is the study of how traits pass from parents to offspring. Epidemiology is the study of the spread, prevention and control of disease in a community or group of persons. Some people mistakenly think genetic disease encompasses only birth defects and this is far from the truth. Genetic disease can occur at any age including birth, onset of puberty, early adulthood, or middle age. Inherited diseases are extremely varied from protein metabolism to connective tissue problems to vital organ failure, and among the most expensive to manage financially both for the public and for the individual family. These diseases endure as the most difficult, time consuming, and emotionally traumatizing for everyone involved in the care of someone who will not improve, but worsen and die.

The Mormons, well known for genealogical record keeping, maintain birth, marriage and death information at church libraries and now on the Internet.[6] Since polygamy remained a hidden and illegal practice, disguised family records occurred. The records of the marriages sealed at the Nauvoo Temple before the general exodus to Utah in the 1840’s, may be the most important ones of all; yet, these are stored in a vault, unavailable to researchers. During this early period, polygamy was practiced secretly by the Mormon leadership, men who covertly preached and expanded polygamy while publicly deceiving the general Mormon population about the practice. These wives sometimes became known, sometimes not. For instance, Quinn writes, “over twenty General Authorities were married to such lesser known wives” [7]. ‘Lesser known children’ hidden in families sympathetic to polygamists might remain ignorant of their genetic kinship. And the Genealogy Department advises genealogists to follow only their direct line; in this instance meaning only the wife who is their mother, not other wives of their father.[8] This is inadequate information for purposes of establishing the true incidence of consanguinity within a family or community.  

Genealogists and especially epidemiologists must be scrupulous in identifying all the wives and children of any polygamist man. Branches of the polygamist man’s family left out of the genealogy will change the incidence of common ancestors and potentially mask the true disease risk and incidence in the community. Gradually, I realized the practice of polygamy, especially in Mormondom, might be a prescription for genetic disease. People most at risk likely lived and married within the same small communities their ancestors founded. This seemed to apply in my own kindred because those of us who left Mormonism and married outsiders are less riddled with the deleterious genetic legacy than relatives who married within the ancestral Mormon gene pool.

Parents who share a common ancestor are consanguineous. Consanguinity causes aggregate clusters of deleterious genes to collect in families, which then express themselves as rare recessive disorders like nephritis, cystic fibrosis, biliary artesia, albinism, short stature and many others. Consanguinity also causes rare recessive disorders to mask as dominant. Consanguinity is a reason why families bear children of only one sex - all sons, or all daughters.

Mormon Prophet Hebrew J. Grant determined to keep marrying until he found a woman to bear him living sons. He did not consider this lack of sons might be his genetic inheritance, not his multiple wives. Current scientific knowledge indicates Grant’s lack of sons resulted from his own genetic defect, since only men carry the male Y chromosome to make a son.[9]

Another problem in polygamy is a man’s breeding years are expanded sometimes into his eighties by the taking of new wives. As people age the chances of children inheriting mutant genes increases. Readily accepted as a problem among mothers past the age of thirty-five, it is rarely discussed as a problem when fathers are over thirty-five, let alone eighty.

            Sterility is another consequence of consanguinity and the evidence of many sterile polygamous wives is overwhelming. The adoption of children among family members sometimes disguised sterility. This is a humane coping strategy devised to deal with a dilemma that devastated a woman taught from birth her only value was in the number of children she bore for the Kingdom of God. Yet, this practice may hide the actual genetic kinship and can further exacerbate genetic problems.

Recently, another cousin fathered a child born with spinal bifida, inherited paralysis, an anomaly related to nephritis. He also married a woman descended from polygamy. This child belongs to a family branch that used to be in the U of U nephritis study. This branch, now living in Arizona, is no longer a part of the ongoing familial studies. Dropping a branch of this family from the studies may result in a reported disease incidence which is lower than family experience indicates. It appears my kinship group is suffering from clusters of rare recessive genes. Not one defect, but many.

This gene cluster effect happens when people with common ancestors marry and bear children. Polygamy today is comprised of early Mormon polygamy descendants and these families are now interrelated by a factor impossible in monogamy. Evidence exists that this gene pool foments a genetic and human catastrophe. Mormons can now see why American citizens passed laws intended to stop polygamy, a relic of unwise prophecy, laws continuously disregarded in Utah, a state controlled by the Mormon Church, if they will only look. In addition, the Mormon Church touts itself as the quintessential traditional family values church, advertising via expensive television campaigns. They are quick to point out to reporters that they no longer practice polygamy and excommunicate members who continue to do so. This denial is hollow considering the record. They offer no support, no exit route, and no programs for the people trapped inside polygamy endeavoring to escape these closed polygamous communities, or compounds.[10]

The discoveries and research within my own kindred so alarmed me that I studied other descendants of polygamy to see if their families also suffered from crippling illnesses. I am convinced they do. As bad as this past is, the mounting evidence is far worse. In 1991, I first became aware of the Latter Day Church of Christ (a.k.a. Kingston’s and The Davis County Cooperative Society), a Mormon polygamist offshoot and determined to interview within this virtually impenetrable closed polygamist group. One 1980’s leader, John Ortell Kingston, married thirteen wives and sired over sixty-five children, many of them deformed. His wives included five nieces. One disillusioned former member claims “babies are born as blobs of protoplasm”, and  “brothers marry sisters in an effort to build up a royal priesthood.” [11] I endeavored to publish this information. Editors suggested it was unbelievable. If only that were true.

Then in 1998, a 16 year-old girl limped seven miles to a pay phone and called police. Bruised, welts covering her body, and a broken nose, at first she was reluctant to speak with authorities. She told investigators her father took her to a remote area and belt whipped her for running away from a forced marriage to her uncle, her father’s brother, as his 15th wife. Removed from school like so many polygamy children, she told social workers she wanted to finish high school. [12]

Finally exposed in the news, the facts of life inside this religious/cult compound are stunning Mormons, Utahns, the nation, and the world. Half and full siblings are ‘marrying’ in religious ceremonies. Escaped members report some patriarchs believe it is their duty to give a daughter her first marriage lessons. This is the equivalent of a religious rationalization for the practice of incest. [13] Buried quietly on family farms, without notice of birth or death, child death often remains undocumented in polygamy clans. Utah officials fall all over themselves in an effort to explain why they have done nothing before and what they now propose to do.[14] Unfortunately, the answer is clear as they embarrass themselves inventing new ways to say they will continue to do nothing and wait for the media to change the focus.

Alongside the medical tragedy, other social and legal problems emerge. Currently, thousands of children are born into these closed authoritarian patriarchies. Indoctrinated from birth that they are better than others, exalted, and lacking outside education, understanding nothing about democracy; they not only believe government is corrupt, but then frequently use that rationalization to engage in fraud schemes that bilk the public. As early as 1985, John Ortell Kingston, in an out of court settlement agreed to pay $250,000 to the Utah Department of Recovery Services for child support. Four wives and at least 29 children collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in public assistance. Judgments entered for more than $100,000 against ten other Kingston clan members made on behalf of over 40 children. Recovery Services thinks this is a fraction of the money involved.[15]

The Kingston clan is a fraud masquerading as a religion. A fraud scheme organized to promote the wealth of the Kingston men at the expense of all men, women and children who are not blood. There is no reason why law enforcement cannot dismantle this group by enforcing existing laws.

Until quite recently, the Kingston leaders did not even pay wages to their captive members but paid them in script for working in the cult businesses. Members then used the script to purchase goods at clan owned stores. Reputedly, this cults net worth is over $300 million. It is certainly difficult to leave a cult that holds all the money, property and takes the children if you attempt to leave. Utah courts and social service agencies threaten or remove parental rights from women who want to leave polygamy and then give the children to other polygamous households.[16]  What emerges from this record is a system that protects men and violates the rights of women to live in liberty, all supported by the Mormon Church. 

Throughout 1998 and 1999, the Salt Lake Tribune lifted the covers on the many crimes committed in polygamy. Using resources for a major expose; thus marking the first time news media reported this human and civil rights nightmare accurately since the 1850’s. News articles describing the incest within modern polygamy suggests these communities of forgotten people suffer horrifically.[17] This article focuses primarily on the genetic impact of polygamy; however, the reasons behind polygamy are frightening and misunderstood.

These groups are white supremacists, and inbreeding is an essential doctrine in keeping the bloodline pure.[18] Convinced they are breeding a pure white master race; they blame the mother if a deformed baby is born, then preach she was unrighteous or unclean. It is these discredited ideas that foster this genetic legacy. Early polygamy was rife with incestuous and eugenic ideas and practices as well. Brigham Young, the second Mormon leader, preached, “The time is coming when the Lord is going to raise a holy nation…a royal priesthood upon the earth, and he has introduced a plurality of wives for that express purpose.” [19]

Every person carries some lethal genes. Most populations outbreed and so these lethal genes rarely match to cause any serious diseases. When a group inbreeds, as polygamists have, more and more lethal gene matches occur. Children inherit disabling illnesses. Child life is destroyed.            

Some family members and Utah geneticists disagree with these conclusions. I think I owe my children and all children who risk becoming the next unwitting victims of this tragic genetic legacy, the best information regarding the prevention of this lethal family inheritance that I can find. Thus, over the first fifty years of Mormonism, a highly inbred hierarchy became even more inbred through their illegal marriage and childbirth practices. At the time this inbreeding took place these prophets preached and practiced modern  ‘eugenic science’, the science of controlling the traits of future populations through selective breeding for idealized traits like blond hair, blue eyes, and tall stature. One hundred years later, eugenics is a discredited science, yet some followers still believe.  Historian B. H. Roberts, notes an eugenic attitude regarding polygamy:

 

It was in the name of a divinely ordered species of eugenics that Latter Day Saints accepted the revelation which included a plurality of wives. Polygamy would have afforded the opportunity of producing from that consecrated fatherhood and motherhood the improved type of man the world needs to reveal the highest  possibilities of the race, that the day of the super man might come, and with him come also the redemption and betterment of the race. [20]

 

It is important that Mormons fight the tendency to discount history and the actions of their leaders in favor of a faith promoting history while neglecting important facts. It is important the American public recognize that polygamy was outlawed for valid reasons; and not as apologists claim because of outmoded Victorian moral ideas. It is difficult to assess less than perfect family background when men are revered as ‘prophets,’ ‘apostles,’ and ‘kings.’ If descendants of polygamy do not look critically at the ideas of their ancestors, Utah children may be increasingly at risk. If two descendants of hierarchical polygamy marry, the chances for genetic defects increase if the families were ever interrelated. This means it may be genetically unwise for children of the early leaders to marry other children of early leaders, even now; yet, this tendency still exists in Mormonism.              

            One pediatrician at the U of U, stated he asks only, “Were your parents related?” This is not enough genetic background information to ascertain the facts regarding health risk and may be a reason why health statistics in Utah have significant errors. One newspaper article describes a baby with a disorder previously unseen, ulnar mammary syndrome.[21] Now a new disease classification enters the medical literature and a certainty that even more health care dollars will be allocated towards high tech solutions to preventable problems. These new disease classifications belong at the door of the Mormon Church leadership. They are coming out of polygamous communities proliferating in Utah because Mormons are unable to face their history or follow sound marriage and childbirth practices.

Within Mormonism, large families are coveted and honored. Often these families do not have the resources to prosper. In polygamy this is exacerbated. Women do not have the freedom to consider how often she can give birth and maintain her health. Men make all decisions affecting her health. One nurse confided, “We see too many trisome l3 and l8 babies.” [22] This is a rare disorder and medical descriptions of trisome infants are too dreadful to describe here. These babies usually do not leave the hospital and die as infants.

This nurse has a polygamous background, so does her husband. Three of their children suffer from serious inherited disorders. One child born with an incomplete liver died. If both parents are descendants of polygamy, the children may be at even greater risk. These disturbing accounts offer a look inside the lives of some early Mormon descendants. They can be dismissed as merely anecdotal. It takes maturity to face the truth, especially if the truth is painful and challenges the family tradition and religious belief structure.                       

            Utah news articles often feature geneticists’ and the LDS Church furthering science by applying modern genetic analysis to the vast genealogical database. It is likely flawed. These same articles suggest the Utah population is healthier than similar non-Mormon populations. Mormon descendants of monogamy are probably healthier than a similar non-Mormon population because of their good health habits. I doubt Mormon descendants of polygamy are healthier than non-Mormons. Many of these articles read more like public relations than news. The news may be that descendants of polygamy are at greater genetic risk than the average population, especially if any direct relative was a member of the Mormon hierarchy.        

In early 1990, the incidence of nephritis in the general population was revised from an l in l0, 000 incidence to l in 5,000. There are a limited number of health care dollars. The allocation of those dollars is a public issue. Prevention is a more humane and cost effective way to manage these catastrophic illnesses, than the current medical emphasis on technological cure. I am not against curative measures, just the current emphasis. One nephrologist at the U of U admitted to me, “You may be right.” With medical grants, careers, and tenure to be lost, few doctors will risk raising the most difficult questions. When ancestors are revered as prophets and kings, it is difficult to admit or examine the possibility of this legacy.

 For us parents the future health and happiness of ourselves, our children and grandchildren are at stake. We cannot afford to neglect the possibility our ancestors practiced a form of marriage that was unhealthy and debilitating to our children, to us, and to society. The Salt Lake Tribune focused on one polygamist group, The Latter Day Church of Christ, a.k.a. Kingston’s, this past year. The information about this group is outrageous and shocking. It would be nice to think this is the only incidence of a polygamist group practicing incest as a religious rite. Unfortunately, that is not so. There are many similar outlaw groups in Utah and surrounding states. This is why the state and federal government enacted legislation against polygamy. This is why those laws need to be enforced. To date Mormons have only paid lip service to stopping polygamy.  

 Linda Walker started Child Protection Project, a web site dedicated to exposing this institutionalized incest and child abuse. Linda works as a legal consultant on civil cases involving child abuse and the church. This essay was written in the fall of 1991 and updated summer of 1999.



[1]  McKusick, Victor A., Mendelian Inheritance in Man, Seventh Edition, the John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London, 1986. This is Kindred P listed under classification 10420 and 30105.

[2]  Interview, Fall 1991.

[3]  Personal communication, Fall 1991.

[4] Quinn, D. Michael, Organizational Development and Social Origins of The Mormon Hierarchy, 1832-1932,   Master Thesis, Department of History, University of Utah, August 1973, Table 8, page 69.

[5]  Ibid.

[6] 

[7] Quinn, op cit., page 63.

[8] For an idea of just how married these self designated prophets were go to:

And use the Ancestral File Number Search (AFN) to view Joseph Smith Jr. (AFN:9KGL-W2) founder and prophet with 24 wives listed; other researchers count as many as 84; Brigham Young, 2nd Prophet, (AFN: 3ZD8-KC) lists 38 wives; Heber Chase Kimball (AFN: 41K9-D8) lists 47 wives.

[9] click custom search tab, click ancestral file, then Heber Jeddy Grant (AFN: 2F6Z-DM)

[10] Salladay, Robert, “Mormons now target California”, San Francisco Examiner 04/07/1999, page L1

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/examiner/hotnews/stories/04/marriage04.dtl

The LDS Church is urging members in California to support financially and politically a ballot initiative banning gay marriages, following the Church's donation of $1.1 million to anti-gay-marriage ballot

measures in Alaska and Hawaii. Claiming it is a moral duty to support monogamous heterosexual marriage, why then do they not spend one dollar to help their relatives trapped in polygamy?

http://newsnet.byu.edu/noframes/show_story.cfm?number=11225

[11]  Tanner, Gerald and Sandra, private letter written by a defector from the Kingston cult, Fall 1991.

[12] Burton, Greg, “Father Is arrested for Beating Daughter Who Fled Marriage; 16-year-old says she was 15th wife of father’s polygamous brother; Father Charged With Beating Daughter, 16”, Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City, Utah, 06/03/1998, page B1

[13] Interviews with survivors of polygamy and incest. See  http://www.childpro.org.

[14] Fahys, Judy, “Prosecuting Polygamists Not a Priority; But Leavitt says the state will not tolerate civil-rights abuses; Leavitt Says Polygamy Might Be Constitutional”, 07/24/1998, Page, A1.

Rivera, Ray, “Hatch Joins Leavitt In Game of Twister Over Polygamy Issue; Polygamy Issue Has Politicians In Verbal Tangles”, 08/29/1998, Page, A1.

[15] Wells, Ken, “A Utah Polygamy Clan is Rich, but Women Draw Welfare Benefits”, Wall Street Journal, 02/12/85, page 1.

[16] Jorgensen, Chris, “Polygamists Can Adopt Children, Rules Split Court”, Salt Lake Tribune, 03/27/91, page, B1. The Utah Supreme Court ruled Tuesday a Utah polygamist family cannot be excluded

from adopting children because they practice plural marriage.

[18] Rivera, Ray, “Church Makes Incest Doctrinal -Inbreeding key to doctrine of keeping bloodline pure”, Salt Lake Tribune, Sunday, April 25, 1999.

[19] Faux, Steven, “Genetic Self Interest and Mormon Polygyny”, Sunstone, Salt Lake City, Utah, July-August, page 38.

[20] Roberts, B. H., A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Century 1, 6 volumes, Salt Lake City, Deseret News Press, 1930, 5:297.

[21] Siegel, Lee, “U. Researchers Home In on Gene Defect “, The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City, Utah, 10/12/95, Page, A6. And “Utah Team Finds Gene for Rare Birth Defect; Discovery Provides Insight on Genesis of Limb Malformation”, The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City, Utah, 06/27/97, Page, A18.

[22]  Interview with a polygamy descendant who is a registered nurse and mother, Spring 1991.

 


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