Smith Family Reunion Gathers Family, Builds Testimonies
Contributed By By Lucy Schouten, Church News staff writer
Members of the Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith family met in greater force than ever before in a reunion to remember their family history, which includes much of the early history of the Church.
Roughly 1,100 descendants of Hyrum Smith, Joseph Smith Jr., and Samuel Smith met August 1–4 for a family reunion at This Is the Place Heritage Park at the mouth of Salt Lake City's Emigration Canyon.
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve, a descendant of Hyrum Smith, attended to “say hello to cousins and try to encourage them in their work.”
The reunion included “Joseph's Miracle Run,” a 5K race on August 3 that celebrated the 1813 experimental surgery that saved young Joseph’s leg. Elder Ballard distributed medals to finishers.
Later that day, Roy Wirthlin, a retired vascular surgeon, presented newly discovered research on the surgery. He spoke of the medical skill of the famous doctor Nathan Smith, who performed this surgery 100 years before it would become standard practice. He also showed as-yet unpublished writings about the courage of the family, especially Lucy Mack Smith, in accepting the experimental surgery.
A descendant of Nathan Smith and seventh-generation doctor, David Longcope, was invited to the reunion. He and his family ran in the 5K race, and Frances Orton of the Smith family presented him with the family history records of Nathan Smith, who is not related to the Joseph Smith Sr. family.
Young Smith family descendants also experienced “Zion’s Camp.” The children made swords, learned a pioneer song, and tried walking on wooden crutches like Joseph Smith would have needed after his leg surgery.
Don Lee, a descendant of Hyrum Smith, was the proud maker of the crutches. His wife, Gwen Lee, explained, “It just seems like if children have a very firm foundation and know that in their blood they carry this faith in God, they can have the courage to go forth and be modern pioneers.”
Meanwhile, teenagers made a small wreath with 11 red roses, one for each of Joseph Smith Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith’s children. It decorated the pulpit where musical tributes to the Smith family and a devotional address from Elder Ballard occurred that evening.
The next morning, Smith descendants were recognized at the live broadcast of Music and the Spoken Word in the Conference Center.
Other music during the weekend included an evening concert on August 2, where Nathan Osmond, among others, performed. The emcee for the evening was Rick Macy, who has portrayed Joseph Smith Sr. in several films.
The reunion concluded at a meeting with Elder Ballard for descendants of Joseph Smith Jr., many of whom are not Church members.
Elder Ballard said work is being done to help the family gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon and of the gospel that their forefather restored.
“[The world] ought to come to know Joseph, ought to come to know what was restored,” Elder Ballard commented to the Church News. “We ought to be heralding his name, and you can't really talk about Joseph fulfilling his mission without talking about this family—not only Hyrum but all of his siblings, and particularly his mother and father, who made it possible for him to do what he did.”
“The world needs to know,” he added. “That's why we have to be anxiously engaged.”
Michael Kennedy, a Joseph Smith Jr. descendant, said, “We need to work together as a family to gather our family.” He explained that there are only 2,318 known descendants of Joseph Smith Jr., compared to 24,509 descendants of Hyrum Smith.
Only 200 of the Prophet's descendants have been baptized, since families traditionally shunned those who tried to investigate another religion.
Bob Smith, a descendant from the Midwest, was no exception. His heart was softened when he attended a 2005 bicentennial celebration of Joseph’s birth. He was deeply moved when he and the other descendants were given a standing ovation from a crowd in the BYU Marriott Center in Provo, Utah.
This powerful experience at the 2005 reunion and the personal friendship of Hyrum descendant John Smith and his wife, Gwen, allowed him to investigate the Church. One challenge remained for Bob Smith—he needed to understand why his great-great-grandmother Emma Smith remained in Nauvoo while the Church went west. His search ended when he heard the voice of his ancestor reassuring him that he could join the Church.
“He heard [Emma Smith’s] voice telling him to ‘follow your heart,’ that she ‘was just too tired’ to go west,” John Smith explained.
When Bob Smith was baptized, John and Gwen Smith attended his baptism. It was the first time descendants of the two brothers had participated in an ordinance together.
Gracia Jones, the first Joseph Smith Jr. descendant baptized in the 20th century, has worked to contact her extended family who, because of persecution, fear, and confusion, were scattered as far as Australia.
“We have traveled in our van hundreds of thousands of miles, and we have been in the homes of nearly 500 families,” Sister Jones said. “We’ve connected cousins across the country and the world.”
Brother Kennedy said that 35 percent of the descendants who are now members have been baptized since 2005. That year, following programs for the bicentennial of Joseph Smith’s birth, President Gordon B. Hinckley asked Elder Ballard to give a dedicatory prayer to begin gathering the Joseph Smith Jr. family.
Brother Kennedy quoted Doctrine and Covenants 109:68–70, saying that Joseph Smith was aware of the struggles his family would have, but that the “prejudices within his family” would have to be removed before they could be redeemed.
Brother Kennedy told his family, “He expects us to ‘roar as a lion … that Jesus is the Christ.’”