A Fireside With Joseph Smith’s Great-Great-Great-Grandson

Last week Michael Kennedy spoke to members of  the Las Vegas Stake.  My in-laws are in that stake, and invited my wife and me to attend.  It was a wonderful event.

I knew that Joseph Smith’s wife and children had not gone west with Brigham Young and the pioneers, and that his son Joseph Smith III had been the first president of the Reorganized LDS Church (now the Community of Christ), but I had also assumed that that meant that all of Joseph’s descendants were RLDS. 

Wrong.  Not that he has that many descendants, anyway.  The highlight of the fireside for me was a seventeen foot long chart he and his wife displayed that showed the family tree of Joseph and Emma, including every single member of his posterity, including those still alive.  The most surprising thing about it was how bare it was.  Of the five children he had with Emma who survived to adulthood, only two have lines that would be considered normal for population growth from one generation to the next.  Various reasons exist for this, but one example is particularly striking: one granddaughter joined the LDS Church and was so hounded by other relatives that she refused to have children, not wanting them to have to bear the stress she went through.  Many of the lines of Smith’s descendants have died out. 

(Incidentally, as I’m sure you’re thinking, Kennedy shared an important bit of trivia that bears on the number of descendants as well as a common criticism of the Prophet: though he was sealed to many other women, he doesn’t appear to have had children with any of them.  DNA testing continues, but has ruled out every candidate tested so far.  Though skeptics like to point out that some of the women he was sealed to were still teenagers, some of those “wives” were nearly twice his age.  Strange, if he was abusing his hold over people just to “sow his oats,” don’t you think?) 

The first half of Brother Kennedy’s presentation was his conversion story, which was just as entertaining as it was inspiring.  He grew up in rural Nevada, unaware of his famous ancestor until the early ’70’s when he had to do a report for a history class about an important American in his family tree.  Just as his father was showing him some family heirlooms about Joseph Smith, two missionaries knocked on his door.  The pictures of Emma Smith on the dining room table made quite a conversation starter that day!  Long story short, he got baptized.  Within about a month, he found himself invited to the office of church president Harold B. Lee, who asked him what he knew about Joseph Smith.  Only recalling what he’d gathered for his school report, he said that Joseph Smith had discovered Utah.  President Lee then called into his office a relatively new apostle named Bruce R. McConkie for some tutoring. 

In the mid ’80’s, Brother Kennedy was invited to attend the dedication of a church history site (I think it was the Newel K. Whitney store, but I could be remembering it wrong), where Gordon B. Hinckley, a counselor in the First Presidency, pulled him aside and gave him an assignment.  President Hinckley said that the Church was having a rocky time establishing good ties with Joseph Smith’s descendants and, since Brother Kennedy was a blood relative, it should really be his problem.  He was given a mandate to do the temple work for all of Joseph Smith’s posterity (something that had largely been restricted before), and then work on uniting the living members of the family.

The temple work is now done, and in 2005 he held the first family reunion in Salt Lake City, which was very well attended.  Brother Kennedy said that every living member of the Smith family now knows that Joseph Smith had a testimony of his work, including plural marriage, (even if they haven’t accepted that message themselves) and that much more friendly ties between that family and the LDS Church have been forged.  One of the most moving things about the fireside was hearing Brother Kennedy explain how some of the misunderstandings between us had evolved.  Suffice it to say that if we have any negative assumptions about Emma Smith or her family, we’re dead wrong (Brother Kennedy was also a producer of the recent movie Emma Smith: My Story, which I’m very excited to see now). 

That’s only a threadbare summary of the evening.  I can’t believe Brother Kennedy’s story hasn’t been more widely told.  If you ever have the chance to meet him or hear the details of his life, you should do so.  The web site for his foundation, The Joseph Smith Jr. Family Organization, includes his email address. 

I said before that the best part of the evening was seeing the family tree.  A close second was at the end of the fireside when a woman in the Las Vegas Stake summarized the history of the 300-year-old violin she was holding, which had come across the plains with the pioneers and down through her family.  That violin had played for Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, she said.  Now, after more than 150 years, it played for a member of the Joseph Smith family again.  What song did she choose for this historic occasion?  The Prophet’s favorite song: “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief.”  Everyone in the chapel was touched.

Finally, should any descendants of Jospeh Smith happen to read this, please know that you always have friends in the LDS Church, and that we hope you honor the memory of your great ancestor.  May his work as a prophet lead you to peace in Jesus Christ, as it has for me and millions of others.

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14 comments on “A Fireside With Joseph Smith’s Great-Great-Great-Grandson

  1. I am researching the history of the Stone House, oldest building in Lake County, Calif. One of its earliest residents was J. Broome Smith… which I find provocative since Joseph Smith Jr. first organized his society in Broome County, N.Y.

    Do you know whether J. Broome Smith might be a descendant of Joseph Smith Jr.?

    Thanks.

  2. Nina, I don’t know that, but I’m sure you could contact Bro. Kennedy from the site linked above for the Joseph Smith Jr. Family Organization and ask him. He has the whole family tree mapped out; he’ll know. Good luck!

    • Joseph Smith is my 6th great-uncle. I would very much appreciate it if you have the information of whom it is that I can contact to get the chart of my ancestors that was displayed in Vegas.(the 17 foot family chart that contains all the names even alive to date of my bloodlines ancestry of my uncle Joseph Smith and all of his living descendants.) Your comment says there is supposed to be a link above? It is not showing me on here. Any help you can provide would be very much appreciated. Thank you in advance! :)

  3. As the Great-Great Granddaughter of Joseph Smith Jr and Emma Hale I found your article very interesting. I, too, am familiar with Mike’s story having met him through Orem resident Buddy Youngreen, who at that time was the first person to try to get the Smith fractured family back together. He orchestrated reunion for many years. In 1974 I remember meeting his bus when it pulled into Independence MO and finding a young girl of about my age (Mary Ann Rabe) to tell her of my conversion from RLDS to LDS. This was a source of contention in my family as my grandfather was Israel A Smith, president of the RLDS chuch (Joseph Smith Jr. grandson)from 1945 until his death in 1958.

    As a childless descendant I wonder about the story of the person who converted then refused to have children. I have heard this but I cannot find any names or documentation and my cousins deny thhat that is the story so perhaps it’s through a family line other than Joseph Smith III.

    Thanks again for your interesting article and you might find it interesting that my own conversion began when I was working as a tour guide at the RLDS Auditorium. On a cold, snowy afternoon two missionaries came through the doors and my co-worker and I struck up conversations and to my amazement they were able to answer all of my questions. Unable to meet with them in my family home our discussions were ironically held in the Auditorium. As you can probably guess there would come a time when this was discovered and it was, by the Presiding Bishop who then asked about our “cottage discussions.” Following this I received the remainder of my lessons at the LDS Visitor Center. I am very proud to count the missionaries Mike Mathis of Brigham City, Utah and Marvin M.Smith of Idaho Falls, Idaho, as well as their families as some of my closest friends for the past 35+ years.

  4. While researching my genealogy,i came upon an ancestor who sailed on the mayflower. His name was edward fuller, he sailed over with his wife,son samuel and edwards brother who also had the name samuel.

    Edward and his wife didn’t survive the first winter at plymouth, the son samuel was raised by his uncle samuel.

    The son samuel had a brother mathew who had stayed behind in england, but sailed over on a later ship in the 1630’s.

    I am a descendent from the son mathew fuller- who had a daughter (elizabeth)..heres the good part———————— joseph smith jr is a descendant from mathews brother samuel.
    that makes me a direct cousin to all the currently living smith descendants.

    i had no idea that joseph was an edward fuller descendant, wouldnt of known this if i had not continued further into my genealogy. google edward fuller mayflower and joseph smith mayflower descendant.

    to ALL the smith descendants…HELLO COUSINS!!!!

    • i am a decedent of the smith family. specifically his brother Hyrum Smith is my great great great great great grandfather and also Joseph Smiths killer. Indecently very few of my ancestors ever where part of the moron church. yes i understand anyone can say these things true or not but all of what i say is documented and able to be provided.

    • Hello :) I guess we are related! How amazing. :) I too am looking to find more information on our family ancestry and living descendants of Joseph Smith. He is my sixth great uncle. I would be so appreciative if anyone could help me find a copy of the family tree or any leads on how to.

  5. I am so happy to hear this story. I am the great great granddaughter of a woman named Hannah who was an eye- witness to the events of Nauvoo. I had always wondered about Joseph’s LIVING descendants. Overjoyed to hear of the reunion in 2005. Thank you for sharing this research. P.S. My maiden name was Smith, but I am descended from another Smith, James Smith.

  6. I just happened to come across this wonderful article, and loved it! My husband is also a direct descendant of Joseph Smith Jr., and is a convert to the church. He was actually the first of the Prophet’s direct descendants to be called as a Bishop. We’ve enjoyed so many different firesides, reunions and stories over the years, especially the conversion stories like Donna’s and Mikes!!!! Thank you for posting this, and that super sweet last paragraph!!

  7. I am researching my family history and can’t get enough. Being a MURDOCK, Julia Murdock Smith, I have never heard of the Smith’s before getting into this History.
    I have Albums that I have worked on. Sad as it may be, I do not have any photos of the Smith, out side of internet. These are printed on white paper, no photos. Why have I never heard of the SMITH’s before this time. So sad. Lillian Murdock, 85 years young.
    If any person wishes to enlighten me on this issue, will appreciate it. Lil

  8. sir if you would like some interesting information i am a decedent of the smith family. specifically his brother Hyrum Smith is my great great great great great grandfather and also Joseph Smiths killer. Indecently very few of my ancestors ever where part of the moron church. yes i understand anyone can say these things true or not but all of what i say is documented and able to be provided.

  9. I want to see this family chart. There have been several charts that do not display my family. My grandmother’s grandmother, Mary, who is the daughter of Joseph Smith III, is not shown as having children, or if so, not with Albert Nicholas Keifrider. My great-grandmother used to always tell me about times that she spent with her mother. She even named one of her daughters Bertha after Mary’s mother. I wish to see this family chart so I can make my own. Please.

  10. Joseph Smith is my 6th great uncle.(direct bloodline). How do I get the family ancestry chart that is supposedly 17 feet long that lists all of my ancestors up to Joseph & Emma Smith? His records are so protected its seeming impossible to find. I would love to have a copy of all my ancestors names and history. It would mean the world to me.
    Help please.

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