Text is by Maurine Proctor. Photos by Scot Facer Proctor
In some ways the Lucy Mack/Joseph Smith Sr. reunion held this year the first weekend in August was like most of our family reunions—only super-sized. More than 1,000 people registered and joined together for three days. They came from 19 states as well as Canada, Australia and Romania. While they ate coleslaw and watermelon just like the rest of us at our reunions, they also took over “This is the Place” Heritage Park for a day and had reserved seating for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Spoken Word broadcast.
They almost reached the record for having the world’s biggest family reunion.
Their ancestors’ names—Joseph Smith, Hyrum Smith, Lucy Mack Smith, Mary Fielding, Samuel Smith—live in us as Church members. We can feel them in our own belief DNA, a sort of resonance in our souls. Their stories reside in us, woven like a golden thread through our spiritual sensibilities.
For those who gathered at this reunion, however, the Smiths are actually in their DNA, and you can’t help looking longer at some faces that seem to resemble Joseph, catch a face shape or nose that seems familiar, see some leadership energy that reminds you of the prophet.
The prophet had pled for his family in these words:
"O God, let the residue of my father's house...ever come up in remembrance before thee and stand virtuous and pure in thy presence, that thou mayest save them from the hand of the oppressor, and establish their feet upon the rock of ages, that they may have place in thy house and be saved in thy kingdom, even where God, and Christ is, and let all these things be as I have said, for Christ's sake. Amen - Joseph Smith Jr.
As it turns out he had great reason for concern. When Joseph and Hyrum were martyred at Carthage and Brigham led the Latter-day Saints west, the family was splintered. A shattered Emma stayed behind with her children in a hostile environment, including her son Joseph Smith III. He later formed a new church, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Lucy Mack, now widowed and in precarious health, stayed with Emma. Samuel had died 33 days after the martyrdom from injuries sustained when he went to warn his brothers.
Joseph’s other male siblings had all died, except for William who had been excommunicated. His sisters stayed behind with their families.
Samuel’s widow, Levira Clark Smith came West in 1851. Don Carlos’s widow Agnes Coolbrith Smith came West and then went on to California. Hyrum’s widow, Mary Fielding Smith, came to Utah with his children.
Do you Remember Who You Are?
It was a scattered family, no longer united in religion or united with each other. Over time, many of them would forget their origins. They would forget who they were. If you asked some of them who Joseph Smith was, they had no idea of his significance.
Kenny Duke, a descendent of Catharine, Joseph Smith’s sister, said, “I never knew about Joseph Smith at all until my teenage years. One day my uncle, who was a bulldozer operator, asked, do you know who you are? Teenagers know everything, but I didn't know how to answer that question. He was well-versed in the family. He was an official in the RLDS church. He was a pastor in the church in Carthage. He said, “I want to take you and introduce you to your relatives.”
For Kim Smith, a direct descendent of Joseph Smith, it was worse. She said, “Growing up in my dad’s family, I saw animosity. I didn’t know my cousins who lived 15 miles down the road. I couldn’t figure out why we were so separated on so many issues. My mom taught me about Christ, but this didn’t seem like Christ like love.”
Kim’s first acquaintance with Joseph and Emma Smith was seeing their pictures in her grandmother’s house and feeling uncommonly drawn to them—as if she knew them and loved them, but she didn’t know who they were. As she learned, she was also indoctrinated with misunderstandings and some outright lies about who Brigham Young was. She was taught that Brigham Young had plotted the murder of Joseph Smith, that he had conspired to render Emma destitute.
These were hard prejudices to overcome, ground into the heart of an impressionable youngster, even in the face of facts to the contrary. Yet, Kim, eager to heal her family, began to research the issues that separated them, where the splits and contention came from, and it became her desire to help them heal. She gained a testimony of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was baptized.
Michael Kennedy, a third great grandson of Joseph Smith and the first one in the family to hold the Melchizedek priesthood, had never heard of Joseph, until one day in his little high school in Tonopah, Nevada, the teacher gave an assignment. They were supposed to write about someone in their family history.
Michael said, “Taking this assignment home I asked my father for some help. He told me there were three individuals he felt had something to do with American history in our family lines and named them off: ‘Orville and Wilber Wright, Jonathan Swift, and some ambiguous person by the name of Joseph Smith.’ I asked my dad who he was, and was informed, ‘He is the founder of the Mormons!’
His father left the room and came back with a big box and told Michael that everything he needed was in that box. “My father told me that he grew up never really knowing his family.”
For some of Joseph’s posterity, the loss of knowledge corresponded with distance. Some of Joseph Smith’s posterity moved to Australia, and 1/3 of his down line are there now.
Then, of course, there was a direct line of Smiths who led the RLDS church until 1995 when a non-descendent was appointed. The RLDS would change their name to the Community of Christ and begin to distance themselves from Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.
Joseph Fielding Smith’s Prayers
What do you do about a family so divided as Lucy Mack Smith and Joseph Smith Sr.