PROVO A strain of animosity that has existed for more than 150 years between the families of two early LDS Church leaders is on the mend, according to a descendant of church founder Joseph Smith.
Gracia Jones is Smith's great-great-granddaughter and the first of his direct descendants to be baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She told an audience at BYU Education Week on Thursday that she had invited members of the Brigham Young Foundation to a reunion of Smith's descendants earlier this year in Nauvoo, Ill., in an attempt to build some bridges of understanding between the two families.
The bad blood began when Smith's widow, Emma, and her children stayed in Nauvoo following his martyrdom in 1844, rather than following Brigham Young who later became president of the church to the Salt Lake Valley with the bulk of the Latter-day Saints.
Emma Smith and Young had vastly different ideas about who should lead the church following Smith's death. Young was ultimately ordained church president by fellow members of the Quorum of the Twelve, which became the governing body of the church in Smith's absence.
While Young led the LDS migration to the Salt Lake Valley, Emma Smith remained behind and eventually re-married. One of her sons led a splinter group known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Consequently, none of Smith's descendants were affiliated with the original body of Latter-day Saints until Jones discovered her ancestry and joined 51 years ago.
Ill will has persisted among some descendants of the families for more than a century and a half, Jones said. When planning a reunion of their family members, Smith descendants "talked about the difficulty that children of the family had with Brigham Young and the harsh feelings that had filtered down and left a scar on the family because of the bitterness the children held against him," Jones said.
One of Smith's descendants approached a few of Young's descendants about the rift, and Jones told them they wanted to see if there was a way to build a bridge of understanding.
Earlier this year, some 94 Smith descendants flew to Kansas City and chartered buses to Nauvoo, where many of them stayed at the Smiths' former home. After discussions with Jones about the tension between the two families, Young family descendants Kari Robinson, Mary Ellen Elggren and Peter Kennedy attended the Smith reunion.
At the gathering, they read a letter signed by leaders of their foundation to the group.
"They were such great ambassadors," Jones said, sharing the contents of the letter, which read in part: "For a century and a half we have grieved over the loss of the fellowship of our dear Emma Hale Smith, her children and her descendants. We feel in our hearts an abiding longing to join once again these two families in a common celebration of their ancestors.
"The Prophet Joseph Smith, who stands at the head of this dispensation, is second in our affection to our Lord himself and we hold in the highest esteem our progenitor. If there are any misunderstandings that continue to exist," they seek to help heal them, the letter said.
Regarding Smith's "beloved wife, whom we revere as a truly great and saintly lady, we would commit ourselves to do whatever is needed to publish to the world our deep regard for her noble life. It would be our earnest desire to rebuild that bridge of friendship between our two families that existed not so long ago."
Jones said though Smith family descendants come from all walks of life and a wide variety of faith traditions, they know about the conflict Emma Smith had with Young and "there wasn't a dry eye in the room."
"This is a time of healing. The promises made by the Lord (regarding wayward children) will not fail," she said, adding she has now identified some 1,800 of Smith's descendants and has them mapped on a family history chart that runs 47 feet long.Jones said God's mission for her life is to find as many of Smith's descendants as she can, tell them about their heritage and invite them to learn about him and the church "he restored to the Earth by the power of God."