DNA shows Joseph Smith was Irish

Published: Friday, Aug. 8 2008 1:09 p.m. MDT

SANDY, Utah — DNA research into Joseph Smith Jr.'s genealogy has turned up a surprise, according to Ugo Perego, director of operations at the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation: A rare DNA marker shows that the assumption Smith's family line came from England is probably wrong.

The Smiths were Irish.

Perego was speaking at the 10th annual Mormon Apologetics Conference presented by the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research this week at the South Towne Exposition Center in Sandy. He recounted the investigation into Joseph Smith's DNA and some of the results.

The primary means used to investigate Joseph Smith's DNA was the Y chromosome — a part of DNA that is only passed from father to son and has few mutations.

Elaine Nichols, a specialist in Joseph Smith's genealogy, according to Perego wrote in 1991 that Smith's line can only be followed with confidence back to Robert Smith, possibly born in 1626. Robert Smith showed up in 1638 in Boston, Mass., as an indentured servant to another man. No parents known. No siblings known.

"At that time we thought: 'Wouldn't it be cool if we can reconstruct the Joseph Smith genetic signature, the paternal-line signature ... and then, somehow,... collect samples from Smiths in England, particularly in the area where we think (Robert Smith) came from, see if we find similar genetic signatures there, and perhaps bridge the gap between the Utah or Mormon Smiths and those in England — and find a way to bridge this genealogical gap using DNA,'" Perego said.

By using DNA samples from several known Joseph Smith Jr. and his father's descendants, an accurate example of his Y chromosome DNA profile was identified. There was no need to test his blood or bones or hair or anything.

"If I had Joseph Smith standing by me and be able to (take a sample of his cells) and get some DNA from him, I wouldn't know any additional information than what I already know based on the (samples) of his descendants. That is how accurate this information is," Perego said.

Having this accurate DNA profile also enabled testing of his alleged descendants through polygamous or plural wives.

Perego showed part of a list of alleged children of Joseph Smith through other wives. The DNA of a number of the alleged children was identified and compared:

Moroni Pratt was not his child, contrary to what Fawn Brodie speculated in her critical biography of Joseph Smith, "No Man Knows My History."

Zebulon Jacobs was not his child.

Oliver Norman Buell was claimed by Brodie to be a son of Joseph Smith. She had compared his photograph with Joseph Smith III. "Even the hairstyle was the same," Perego said, eliciting some laughter from the crowd. But notwithstanding the physical similarities, Buell was not Smith's child.

Mosiah L. Hancock was not his child either.

Using other DNA tests, Perego also hopes to determine whether Josephine Rosetta Lyon is a daughter of Joseph Smith. So far he has collected 120 DNA samples from her descendants. He says they should know in the "next year or so."

"My testimony of Joseph Smith has absolutely nothing to do with to what extent he practiced polygamy," Perego said. "But there is an interesting situation in which there are literally thousands of people descended of these individuals that are wondering, based on what has been written, whether or not they are descendants of Joseph Smith, and so here you have a chance to tell these people how things are."

Whether Joseph fathered some of the other children on the list may never be known, because some of them died too young to have any children themselves. "I'm not really in the business of going around and digging up graves and testing," Perego said.

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