DNA tests rule out 2 as Smith descendants

Scientific advances prove no genetic link

Published: Saturday, Nov. 10 2007 12:00 a.m. MST

After more than a century of speculation about whether LDS Church founder Joseph Smith had children with any of his plural wives, a local geneticist said he recently has crossed two such purported descendants off the list of potential candidates.

Ugo Perego, director of operations at the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, told the Deseret Morning News that technological advances in DNA testing during the past couple of years have helped prove with "99.9 percent certainty" that two early Latter-day Saints thought by some to be Smith's children are not his descendants. They are:

• Mosiah Hancock, son of Clarissa Reed Hancock, who was married to Levi Hancock.

• Oliver Buell, son of Prescindia Huntington Buell, who was married to Norman Buell.

Perego said that brings to five the number of people that some believed were Smith descendants whose paternal DNA does not match up with his. To date, at least seven other early Latter-day Saints have been identified in various historical documents or in later writings as potential Smith offspring, he said.

In 2005, Perego said DNA testing also ruled out three other alleged male descendants — Moroni Llewellyn Pratt (son of Mary Ann Frost Pratt, married to Parley P. Pratt), Zebulon Jacobs (son of Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith, married to Henry Bailey Jacobs) and Orrison Smith (son of Fanny Alger).

Some candidates are surrounded by what he called "strong historical evidences like journal entries," while other alleged descendants have little historical basis to be related, other than "speculation based on conclusions that sometimes may have been too rushed," Perego said.

In Hancock's case, "historically, there is nothing about him. In fact, another son of Levi Hancock is more in question, named John Reed Hancock." Mid-20th century historian and author Fawn Brodie, in her book "No Man Knows My History," had "quite a lot about John Reed Hancock," he said.

Brodie also believed Buell was Smith's child, born during the early church's days in Far West, Mo., he said. "She goes quite far to explain why she thought this was the case. The time was perfect because (Prescindia's) husband was gone from the church, and there was a plural marriage that took place while he was gone."

Brodie also offered as evidence a photo of Buell resembling two of Joseph and Emma Smith's sons, writing that his "physiognomy ... seems to weigh the balance overwhelmingly on the side of Joseph's paternity."

Historians say Smith was married to as many as 30 women before he was killed by a mob in June 1844.

Perego also has gathered DNA samples on about 120 descendants of Josephine Rosetta Lyon, daughter of Sylvia Sessions Lyon, who was one of Smith's wives. But Y chromosome evidence, used to determine paternal relationships from father to son, is not present for Lyon because she is female. The effort to determine Lyon's parentage is ongoing, he said.

His most recent findings were presented as a paper at the annual John Whitmer Historical Association conference in Kirtland, Ohio, in late September. The group's officers since have asked Perego to put his presentation into an article format suitable for publication in their next annual journal.

The list of approximately 12 people alleged to have been Smith's children "may grow over time," Perego said, noting historical documents continue to surface. "I'm not saying the list I have is definitive or complete at all. But out of those we have data for, there is no evidence from DNA at this point that Joseph Smith had any children from women other than Emma Smith.

"In the future, if DNA data will be able to be collected and tested, we might know otherwise. But right now, we're able to eliminate five children from that list. There may be some cases we might never be able to test at all."

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