Reuniting Joseph and Hyrum
Welcome to Linda’s Corner. My name is Linda Bjork. Today’s podcast is about the descendents of two brothers named Joseph and Hyrum. It is intended particularly for those of my faith, which is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but anyone is welcome to listen.
Only 14 short years
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was officially organized on April 6, 1830. At that small meeting Joseph Smith was sustained as a prophet and apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was only 14 short years later on June 27th of 1844 that the prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were martyred in Carthage jail.
The enemies of the church thought that killing the prophet and his brother would put an end to the church, but when that didn’t happen, they continued to persecute the saints and drove them out of Nauvoo. Most of the saints migrated west to the Salt Lake Valley for safety, but some chose to stay behind in Nauvoo. The two widows of Joseph and Hyrum made different choices at this point. Hyrum’s widow, Mary Fielding Smith, chose to move west with the main body of saints, but Joseph’s widow, Emma Smith, chose to stay in Nauvoo.
Some people have judged and condemned Emma for her decision to stay behind, but they forget the many trials she had already endured including mobs, persecution, being driven from her home, the many babies she lost, and the murder of her husband. I believe if you walked a mile in her shoes, you would be filled with compassion rather than condemnation. However, there is no denying that this one choice that these two women made have had consequences that have affected generations.
The results of one choice made by one person
The descendents of Hyrum Smith have played significant roles in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Hyrum and Mary’s son, Joseph F. Smith, served as president of the church from 1901 to 1918, and his grandson Joseph Fielding Smith also served as president of the church from 1970 to 1972.
M. Russell Ballard, the current acting president of the quorum of the twelve apostles is also a direct descendant of Hyrum Smith. It is estimated that 6,000 of Hyrum’s descendants have served full-time missions. And there are an estimated 31,000 living descendants of Hyrum Smith today, many of whom are active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. All of this is a result of one decision made by one woman, Mary Fielding Smith, who chose to cross the plains with a covered wagon and bring her family west to be with the saints in the Salt Lake Valley.
What happened to Joseph’s descendants?
But where are the descendents of Joseph Smith? What happened to them? Are there any descendents of the prophet Joseph Smith that belong to the church that he founded? For over 100 years, the answer to that question would be no. But today there are a few.
Gracia Jones, a great, great granddaughter of Joseph Smith joined the church in 1956. At the time of her baptism, she was the only descendent of Joseph Smith who belonged to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In 1973, another descendent of Joseph Smith named Michael Kennedy was baptized. Michael became the first descendent of Joseph Smith to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood. At the request of President Gordon B. Hinkley, Michael began an organization called the Joseph Smith Jr. family organization in 1985. He also leads the Joseph Smith Jr. and Emma Hale Smith Historical Society.
Both Gracia and Michael have been working hard to find the other descendents of Joseph Smith. Because of persecution, many of Joseph’s descendants had been told never to let anyone know that they were related to Joseph Smith and many had migrated to Australia.
A bicentenial celebration
The year 2005 was the bicentennial year of Joseph Smith’s birth, and that provided an excellent opportunity to invite all of Joseph Smith’s descendents to Salt Lake City for a reunion. One hundred fifty-nine members of Joseph Smith’s family came from around the world to attend the celebration.
Michael Kennedy felt inspired that rather than having the guests stay at hotels, they should stay in the homes of their distant cousins. So certain members of Hyrum’s family were invited to host visitors who were members of Joseph’s family.
Today I’m delighted to have with me special guests John and Gwen Smith. John and Gwen were one of the couples invited to serve as hosts for their distant cousins and they have a special story to share. John is a great-grandson of Hyrum Smith and one of the few remaining living grandchildren of the prophet Joseph F. Smith. John and Gwen are wonderful, special people, and I should know, because they are my parents.
Gwen and John Smith
Mom and dad, thanks for being willing to share this special story with us today. Would you tell us about how they approached you and what that was like.
Gwen: Well we had wanted to host the Joseph Smith family. We always wanted to be a part of their lives. Our niece Jackie Cook came to us and asked us if we wanted to be a part of this, we said, yes, yes, we want to host them.
So we were given two descendants, Robert W. Smith and Kim Larsen, his neice. They lived in Omaha, Nebraska and we were thrilled to have them come.
You may not want me to come
Gwen: We called Bob to let him know that we were happy to have them come and wanted to get acquainted over the phone. and he said, ‘Well you may not want me to come because I smoke,’ and we said, ‘Well that’s okay you can smoke out on the deck. We’ll get a can for you so that you can put your ashes in it. It will be just fine.’ Now he’s teased me since then that it was a tuna can and he was a heavy chain smoker, and he thought he ought to have had a gallon can.
Soon after came the wonderful time to meet them at the airport.
Bob Smith and Kim Larsen, descendants of Joseph Smith, visit Salt Lake City for a bicentennial reuntion
Instant, overwhelming love
John: We went to the airport and the first time I saw Bob I was overcome by the spirit. I’ve never experienced that before, but I loved him intensely, immediately at that moment I first saw him. And I still love him. That was the key to our whole experience with them all the time we were together and we really love Bob.
Linda: So as part of this reunion there were several activities planned. One of them was a special bicentennial celebration that took place at BYU in the Marriot center and some really awesome things took place there.
Bicentennial celebration at the Marriot Center at Brigham Young University, 2005.
Marriot Center miracle
Gwen: The Joseph Smith family had a special place assigned for them to sit in the Marriot Center. So they sat together and John and I sat in a little different area of the Marriot Center while the spectacular 200th anniversary program was given. The program was amazing with incredible singing and dancing and it was all about Joseph Smith.
Before the program began they announced that some of Joseph Smith’s descendants were in attendance and they asked them to stand and be recognized. Bob was nervous about why they would have them stand. He had been taught all his life that the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints hated them. He was really scared to come to Utah at all. He joked that if he ever traveled to Salt Lake, he would arrive in a plane and return in a pine box, meaning that they would probably kill him and he’d be sent home in a coffin. So he was nervous when they were asked to stand. He wondered if maybe people would ‘boo’ or throw tomatoes at them, but instead the whole congregation stood and gave them a standing ovation and it brought tears to Bob’s eyes. He had never cried in his life. Very seldom. And so this was touching.
Not what he expected
Gwen: It was not at all what he expected. Instead of hating him, these people were cheering for him. And he couldn’t believe that these people were talking openly about Joseph Smith and honoring him. He knew about Joseph Smith, but he grew up in the RLDS church which later became the Community of Christ church. They denounce Joseph Smith as a prophet and also the Book of Mormon. They are ashamed to mention any association with either of those things. So when he saw this church who believed and valued Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon he was so overcome that when we came home he stayed up all night because he knew that he had found the truth, but what was he to do? Could he leave his family and the teachings that he’d been given and join the church? He was in turmoil, absolute turmoil about what to do, but we had no idea. He was completely stoic and never said a word.
The Choir at Temple Square performs “Music and the Spoken Word”
They sang just for us
John: The next day was Sunday and we were invited to go to the Conference Center to listen to a live broadcast of ‘Music and the Spoken Word’ by the Choir at Temple Square [formerly known as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir]. We were seated right up close. Many tourists were there and filled the hall, but we were seated up front with the Joseph Smith family. They had a special place and after that wonderful program all the other people left and we stayed there with the Joseph Smith family and they sang two more songs for us. One of them was Joseph Smith’s First Prayer and I think the other one was Praise to the Man Who Communed with Jehovah. Bob shed tears he was so overcome. We were a few seats over so we didn’t see his tears and didn’t know how this had affected him.
Gwen: Bob loved to sing so after we came home from the Conference Center, I played the piano and he sang some songs. He knew and loved the song How Great Thou Art so I played and he just sang it right out. We scanned through the Hymn Book and sang a few others. He noticed that the song Joseph Smith’s First Prayer was in that book, and he was impressed. I asked if he would like to keep the hymn book and he said yes, so I gave it to him.
Gwen Smith plays the piano while Bob sings (Kim seated next to Gwen at the piano)
Soon it was time to go home
John: I showed Kim the quadruple combination that we had of scriptures and she seemed interested so I gave them to her.
Gwen: Now we never knew that Bob was interested in anything. He never showed any interest at all. At one point when he was out on the deck smoking, I asked him if he’d like a copy of the Book of Mormon and he said, ‘No, I’ve got three already,’ and so I left it at that and didn’t say any more. We never pushed the gospel on either of them and they went home.
Not one, but two sets of missionaries taught Bob Smith [center]
Missionaries knocked on his door
John: Several months went by and then the missionaries knocked on Bob’s door. He welcomed them in and they were surprised to see a Latter Day Saint hymn book and a picture of Joseph Smith sitting on the table. They asked if he was a member of the church and he said no and then he spent the whole rest of the day in conversation with these elders. Then as it turned out he was continually taught from that point on. He was taught by the elders where he lived, but that wasn’t enough. His boss, who happened to be a member of the church, also asked two missionaries from his area to teach Bob, so he had four elders teaching him.
He believed what they said and he knew it was true, but he had a problem. His problem was the question, why did Brigham Young leave Emma and her family? And how would Emma feel if I joined the church? These questions bothered him immensely.
How would Emma feel?
He heard a voice, and he knew it was Emma
John: A little later he was listening to the radio while driving in his car, when all of a sudden the radio stopped. It was just quiet. He banged on it and got upset that the radio wasn’t working, but then he heard a voice. It was a woman’s voice and he knew that it was Emma Smith and she said, ‘Robert, follow your heart. I didn’t go west because I was too tired to go any further.’ And then the radio continued to play. So he knew he had his answer and he was going to get baptized.
Gwen: One day we got a phone call from Bob and he said, ‘You know ever since I left your place I’ve been in an uproar with myself and everything has turned upside down.’
And we said, ‘Why?’ and he said, ‘Well I’m going to be baptized in the church.’ To us this came out of the blue and we almost went through the ceiling because we were so happy about this. I wondered how he would be able to give up that heavy chain smoking, but he did it.
We asked when he was going to be baptized and he said, ‘I don’t know yet, but I’ll let you know.’ And we said, ‘We want to be there. We want to be there when you get baptized so let us know,’ and he did.
Bob’s baptism. [John and Gwen Smith on the back row left, Bob Smith back row center, Michael Kennedy back row to the right of Bob]
A historical first
Gwen: He called and let us know when it would be and we drove to Omaha, Nebraska where he lived. Both John and I got to participate in the program. I played the piano and accompanied Bob while he sang a song.
John: And I was asked to give a talk on baptism and got to take part in the ordinance of giving the gift of the Holy Ghost. This is the first time that a descendant of Hyrum and a descendant of Joseph Smith had participated together in a gospel ordinance.
Gwen: So the next day, we were about to go home and we looked at the temple at Winter Quarters and we said, ‘Now we’ll be back when you go through the temple in a year.’
John and Gwen Smith (left) with Bob Smith (center) at the Nauvoo Temple
An invitation to attend the Joseph Smith Jr. family reunion
Gwen: So in a year he called us and invited us to the 2nd Joseph Smith Jr reunion which was held that year and then he was going to go through the Nauvoo Temple, he wanted to go to the Nauvoo Temple because that was Joseph’s temple.
We participated in all the activities of the Joseph Smith Jr. family reunion as followed along as they traveled from Independence, Missouri, where they visited the Liberty Jail and then on to Far West. Now at Far West, there was a little store and we found a statue of Joseph and Hyrum. It was a miracle that they would have that because they weren’t that big of a place. We had one just like it at home and Bob had admired it, so when we saw that at the store we bought it and the plan was to give it to him after he went to the temple to receive his endowments. We have a picture of John and Bob on the steps of the temple holding the statue. It was so meaningful to have these descendants of Joseph and Hyrum standing together representing those two brothers at that ordinance.
Bob Smith (left) a descendant of Joseph Smith and John Smith (right) a descendant of Hyrum Smith. Bob holds a statue of the brothers Joseph and Hyrum.
A few more miracles
Linda: I know you wanted to mention a couple of other beautiful miracles that happened. One of them was the reuniting of Bob with his daughter Lisa. They had been estranged for many many years and you were able to be a part of helping them to reunite and heal some of that breach and get them to be able to speak together which was a beautiful thing.
A reconciliation of Bob and his daughter Lisa
Linda: Another beautiful story was when Bob went to the temple to be sealed to his parents and some wonderful things happened there.
John: I’m going to quote what Bob said, ‘There was a row of seats that had been left empty in the sealing room and the other seats were filled. I cannot say for sure if what I saw and felt was real, but the presence in the room was supernatural. I was kneeling with my father and my mother and my sister. The seats that had been empty before were filled with my grandparents, my great grandparents, and my great great grandparents, and my great, great, great grandparents. The compassion I felt was completely overpowering.’ What a miracle!
Gwen: Joseph Smith was his great great grandfather.
John: That is correct.
Linda: Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful story and for being a part of this beautiful story.
Bob smith passed away in 2018, but he has touched the lives of my parents forever. They consider the experiences that they shared together to be a highlight of their lives.
In closing I’d like to share a quote found in Joseph Smith History 1:39 And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers.
Today, I hope my heart and your heart will be turned to our fathers, our mothers, our sisters and our brothers.
See you next time, on Linda’s Corner.
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