(Last Updated: November 2008)

Because Joseph Smith practiced polygamy in relative secrecy, the details of children he may have fathered by his plural wives is uncertain.  In a 1905 speech at Brigham Young University, Joseph's wife, Mary Elizabeth Rollins explained, "I know he [Joseph] had six wives and I have known some of them from childhood up.  I know he had three children.  They told me.  I think two are living today but they are not known as his children as they go by other names." ("Remarks", April 14, 1905, BYU Lee Library).

Josephine Lyon, daughter of Sylvia Sessions Lyon, wrote, “Just prior to my mothers death in 1882 she called me to her bedside and told me that her days were numbered and before she passed away from mortality she desired to tell me something which she had kept as an entire secret from me and from all others but which she now desired to communicate to me.  She then told me that I was the daughter of the Prophet Joseph Smith”. 

As with Josephine, these children were most likely borne by women who already had a husband when they married Joseph Smith, and may have been raised using the first husband’s surname.  Still, questions remain regarding who these children may have been.

Today, DNA science may be providing answers.  One method of doing this is by tracing a portion of the Y Chromosome, which remains essentially unchanged as it passes from father to son.  By analyzing the DNA of a male descendant, the paternity of the ancestor can be determined.

Although Y Chromosome testing is extremely useful in cases involving unbroken paternal lineages, it cannot be used to identify alleged daughters, such as Josephine Lyon, that Joseph Smith may have fathered.  To understand these cases, complex genetic testing involving autosomal DNA (the DNA found in the remaining chromosomes) is required.

Historians have previously identified eight possible children of Joseph Smith borne by his plural wives.  As of November 2007, DNA testing has shown that three of these eight children were not fathered by Joseph Smith.  Two other children died as infants and therefore left no posterity.  DNA testing is underway or remains a possiblity for the the remaining three.  They are listed below, along with the traditionally recognized mother and father:

Josephine Lyon (Birth: February 8, 1844)
Mother: Sylvia Sessions Lyon
Father: Windsor Lyon

Frank Henry Hyde (Birth: January 23, 1845, 1846?)
Mother: Marinda Johnson Hyde
Father: Orson Hyde

John Reed Hancock (Birth: April 19, 1841)
Mother: Clarissa Reed Hancock
Father:  Levi Hancock


George Algernon Lightner (Birth: March 22, 1842)
Mother: Mary Rollins Lightner
Father: Adam Lightner

Orson Washington Hyde (Birth: November 9, 1843)
Mother: Marinda Johnson Hyde
Father: Orson Hyde


Moroni Pratt (Birth: December 7, 1844)
Mother: Mary Ann Frost
Father: Parley P. Pratt (confirmed via DNA research - May 2005)

Zebulon Jacobs (Birth: January 2, 1842)
Mother: Zina Huntington Jacobs
Father: Henry Jacobs (confirmed via DNA research – May 2005)

Oliver Buell (Birth: 1838 – 39)
Mother: Presendia Huntington Buell
Father: Norman Buell
(confirmed via DNA research – November 2007)

NOTE: Presently, there is only anecdotal evidence that Clarissa Reed Hancock (Mother of John Reed Hancock) was a plural wife of Joseph Smith.  DNA testing would shed further light in this regard.  The year of Frank Henry Hyde's birth is uncertain.  An 1846 birthdate would eliminate him as a possible child of Joseph Smith (See "The Orson Hyde Genealogy", Utah Genealogical Magazine and Historical, April 1913, pg 60 and "ISL", pg 535, fn 41).  

At the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, Dr. Scott R. Woodward and Ugo A. Perego are using DNA techniques to better understand the paternity issues related to possible children of Joseph Smith.  This genetic testing was part of several special projects designed to help the general public recognize the value of DNA in family history research.

"Reconstructing The Y-Chromosome of Joseph Smith", a paper detailing their research was presented at the Mormon History Association Conference May 28, 2005 and was also published in the Summer 2005 Journal of Mormon History (Vol 32, No 2). The paper discusses the paternities of Moroni Pratt (Mary Ann Frost) and Zebulon Jacobs (Zina Huntington Jacobs) as well as a claimed descendency through Fanny Alger, and concludes that none of these three were Joseph Smith's children.

Ongoing research includes evaluation of Josephine Lyon (Sylvia Sessions Lyon) autosomal DNA.  "Hundreds of DNA samples from male and female descendants of both Josephine Lyon and Joseph Smith have been collected and are being analyzed with the objective of identifying lineage-specific markers..." (Perego, Woodward, Journal of Mormon History, Vol 32, No.2 fn 39).  In January 2004, Descendants of Josephine participating in this study indicated the research is "promising" in confirming Josephine as a daughter of Joseph Smith.  An August 2008 “Mormon Times” article indicates, “…they should know in the ‘next year or so’”.

The researchers are also hoping to study the other possible children of Joseph Smith and welcome the involvement of descendants. 

These special projects were conducted as independent studies by both researchers and are not part of the Foundation's main goals and objectives. For more information about the work of the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation, please visit

For more information regarding the Joseph Smith DNA project, contact:

Ugo Perego
Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation
2511 South West Temple
Salt Lake City, UT 84115

Phone: (801) 461-9775



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