Josephine Lyon – The Definitive DNA answer

I’m here at the Mormon History Association Conference, and Ugo Perego has revealed his results regarding the paternity of Josephine. Josephine is not the biological daughter of Joseph Smith.

The presenters are Don Bradley, Ugo Perego, and Brian Hales.

Don’s been unwell, so he went first. He looked at the textual evidence. Clearly Josephine and her family believed that Josephine was the biological child of Joseph Smith. Sylvia Lyon waited to the end of her life to convey the information, suggesting something special was intended.

Ugo then presented his result about whether Josephine was the biological daughter of Joseph Smith.

If Josephine had been proven to be the child of Joseph Smith, Brian had constructed a lovely explanation of how Sylvia and her legal husband were estranged at the time.

However if Josephine was proven to not be Joseph’s child, the belief that Sylvia’s deathbed confession implied biological is so strong that many will presume this necessarily means Sylvia was simultaneously having sex with both Joseph and her legal husband.

I have posed an explanation for why Sylvia would have felt a need to convey the information. But this was not shared as part of either Don Bradley’s presentation or Brian Hales’ presentation.

Ugo reviewed the science of DNA and past results. In the past, Ugo has constructed a very accurate Y chromosome signature for Joseph Smith.

Other cases Ugo had evaluated had all come up negative for Joseph being able to be the biological father.

Ugo now has been able to assemble 6000 relationship pairs, with fifty five individuals specifically tested for this evaluation. The unit of resemblance is cM, centi Morgans. A grandchild would be expected to share ~1700 cM with their grandfather. Each additional degree of separation would reduce the expected number of shared cM by a factor of two, though there could be significant variation about the expected result.

Due to the amount of time that has passed, the expected cM shared between known descendants of Joseph and known descendants of Josephine would be 106.25 cM for the relationship pairs being examined if Joseph was the father.

The shared cM was 0 between the closest extant descendants of Joseph and each of the five closest extant descendants of Josephine Lyon.

Here’s the link to Ugo’s white paper and supplemental information:

Brian Hales covered the possibilities this result might support.

First, Sylvia may have had sexual relations only with her legal husband. A newly shared document from Phebe Clark seems to indicate she felt the deathbed declaration regarding Joseph being father applied also to her. As Phebe was conceived long after Joseph’s death, this argues for the covenant child interpretation.

A second possibility is that Sylvia had become pregnant by Windsor, but did not realize her pregnant state and separated from Windsor before beginning exclusive relations with Joseph.

A third possibility is that there was full polyandry, but Sylvia merely asserted the identity of the more desirable husband.

A fourth possibility is that Sylvia mainly had sex with Joseph after the sealing, but did have at least one sexual interlude with Windsor. [I was amused that Brian didn’t mention the possibility that the postulated sexual interlude in this proposed case might not have been consensual…]

Brian then reviewed the cultural evidence that polyandry is typically not accepted, specifically not in later Mormon circles.

Polyandry is also not a part of the biblical tradition.

In the discussion, Brian shared a statement from Whitesides suggesting Sylvia may have been having inappropriate relations with Stephen Markham. This is fascinating from the standpoint of my paradigm, suggesting an alternate reason for Joseph’s covenant with Patti, Sylvia’s mother.


Brian and Laura Hales have a video explaining these results at the FairMormon site.

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but that Emma was right to assert she had been Joseph's only true wife.

17 thoughts on “Josephine Lyon – The Definitive DNA answer

  1. This Is awesome. It confirms your theory of Joseph not fathering children with any woman but Emma.

  2. By the way, I was live blogging this on an iPhone. So I apologize for grammar and typos. These will be fixed at some point.

    I believe this is the same link that Geoff already posted, but Brian and Laura Hales have a video explaining these results at the FairMormon site.

    Some charts Ugo included in his presentation are at his Joseph Smith DNA site.

    This result doesn’t confirm my hypotheses, as there are other possible explanations, but it is certainly solidly consistent with my hypotheses.

  3. This is a huge deal. If the DNA would have come back linking Joseph Smith, it would have been a huge plus for the polyandry argument. The Hales’ are justifiably excited. IMO it means that Sylvia was laying claim to her “eternity-only” sealing to Joseph Smith on her deathbed. But the evidence is still incomplete, and I doubt the polyandry theory will evaporate any time soon. But it should be noted that Sylvia was with Lyon after Joseph died and Lyon died en route to Utah.

    I can’t help but recall Heber J. Grant’s vision or dream, as a newly called apostle, of Joseph Smith and Jedediah Grant playing a role in his selection as apostle in a heavenly council. Heber’s mother, Rachel Ivins, was sealed for time only to Jedediah Grant, but she was sealed for eternity to Joseph Smith. IIRC Brigham performed the sealing to Smith with Grant acting as proxy. But Heber was viewed as a son of Joseph Smith by many during his life. Jedediah was his biological father.

  4. Statements are rendered ambiguous by misplacing the word “only,” which properly should be placed immediately before the clause it modifies.

    “…Sylvia may have only had sexual relations with her legal husband,” (which implies that she’d never done anything else but that with him) would have been crystal clear if it had been written that ‘she’d had sexual relations with ONLY her legal husband’ as opposed to, say, Joseph Smith as well.

    This is not trifling nit-pickery in matters genealogical, or any other matters, for that matter…

  5. How odd, to combine an ad for Brazilian Hair Treatment with a critique of grammar in a real-time post written on an iPhone (in a dark room where the presentation was being made).

    I’ll update my grammar. For anyone who does want to relax curly hair, feel free to click on Uncurly’s name to be directed to another website…

  6. Another possibility Hales didn’t address is that Joseph never practiced polygamy, spiritually or otherwise, and that the women who claimed to be his wife were lying. If we’re going to put so many options on the table, this one definitely deserves a place. I’m very excited about this news because this is the narrative I believe.

  7. Hi Tamsyn,

    With respect to Sylvia, the scenario you describe it is option one. Certainly one could suggest that Silvia was misrepresenting or was being misunderstood when she talked with her daughters at her deathbed.

    However you have to establish that all other information is invalid. Merely saying “I don’t believe,” is insufficient. One has to actually destroy the other testimonies and prove why they’re not credible.

  8. Meg, are you just fine with all other men having relations with their plural wives? Is it just Joseph that you believe did not? Why do you believe that Joseph lived polygamy in a different manner than even those close to him who he’d called to live polygamy while he was still alive? Joseph’s own personal secretary (William Clayton) had children with his plural wife in Nauvoo before Joseph’s death and Joseph sanctioned this marriage. Wouldn’t he have disciplined these other men who he’d called to live polygamy if having relations and offspring were not a part of the principle?

    Also, there’s quite a good thread going on over on the Mormon Dialogue & Discussion Board about you and this topic (“Joseph Smith’s Polyandry). You might want to check it out! All opinions are welcome and you may want to express why you believe as you do.

  9. Hi Gwen,

    If anybody bothers to read my threads and book, it is perfectly clear what I think.

    I think what I think because that is what the data leads me to, namely that Joseph appeared to believe he was under commandment to restore a knowledge that plural marriage was acceptable, but that he really didn’t want to do so. In addition to whatever Joseph thought, Emma was terrified of what could happen (and did happen) as a result of teaching and practicing plural marriage.

    I suppose I’ll wander over and see what folks are saying. I suspect I’ll be frustrated that no one is reading the evidence, instead preferring to live in a land where the rumors they’ve believed is all they want to hear.

  10. So, that was an interesting thread. I’ve contributed.

    So, Gwen, you appear to have missed the bit where Bennett and his buddies had coerced dozens (or more) to participate in illicit intercourse, where folks were having a grand old sexual time. Catherine Laur [Fuller] names six men she’d had sex with in 1841-1842, and her home was a location where women were pressured to engage in sex and got to watch while others engaged in sex.

    As I mentioned, Joseph was under commandment to restore the knowledge that plural marriage is permissible – important as eternal marriage would transform a re-married widower into a polygamist in the resurrection.

    When Joseph uncovered the illicit intercourse heresy, he covenanted with many families via marriages to an appropriate woman in the family. Once you understand that Joseph was trying to save his people from damnable heresy, it all begins to make sense, including such odd things as Joseph attempting to talk to the daughter of Vinson Knight around the time he “married” her mother. Vinson Knight appears to have been one of those who became involved in illicit intercourse, based on an entry in William Clayton’s journal.

    I’ve laid out why I think Brigham did what he did in the book, refining the argument I made in my Give Brigham Young a Break post. In the book, the chapter is titled “Eradicating Spiritual Wifery.” Remember also that Brigham was faced with dozens of men and women who wished to be sealed to a deceased spouse while simultaneously faced with lethal threats. He apparently made it policy that any man being sealed to a deceased spouse had to have his mortal wife, preferably a plural wife, stand proxy. Similarly, a woman wishing to be sealed to a deceased spouse had to show up with a proxy willing to be her “husband” for time. Many of these “for time” marriages were discarded in a short time after 1846, but all too many of these “for time” marriages stayed in place.

    To say it another way, it is as though you are asking me about terrible scar tissue, but failing to understand the wound that originally caused the scarring in the first place. What Joseph and Brigham did was in response to a horrific evil, and they did their best to allow men and women to repent while reacting to protect the believers against those who continued to actively attack the restored Gospel Joseph and Brigham believed in.

  11. The thing is, there are contradicting testimonies. Joseph Smith, his wife Emma, their oldest son, for example, have all testified that they weren’t involved in polygamy. One has to decide who is more credible, who to believe.
    Having said that, I haven’t read your book yet (just finished chapter one), so I’m still open-minded. I’ve read the Price’s book “Joseph Fought Polygamy” and found their evidence to be compelling. There certainly are a lot of perspectives one can take regarding polygamy and I’m excited to have found another one and look forward to reading your book. It’s very generous of you to share it online as you have.

  12. Hi Tamsyn,

    Recall that in Nauvoo, polygamy was understood to be illicit intercourse, of which I don’t believe Joseph was ever guilty.

    To illustrate this, I will remind people that abortion is the technical term for a prematurely terminated pregnancy. So a miscarriage is technically an abortion. But if you were to go up to someone who has recently lost a wanted child, comforting them on their recent “abortion,” you can imagine how angry they would become.

    For Joseph, he was denying the illicit intercourse aspect understood at the time to be part of polygamy.

    With Emma, she was maintaining her husband’s virtue and (I think) was also reacting to the fact that William Smith (a proponent of spiritual wifery and illicit intercourse in the 1840s) had recently joined the RLDS Church and could be expected to attempt to teach her sons about William’s understanding of Nauvoo once Emma was dead. So I take her testimony as a sort of preemptive strike.

    For the sons of Joseph and Emma, they had no context for understanding that plural marriage could be acceptable, raised as they were in the Midwest amidst those who had been willing to kill Joseph Smith over plural marriage. They took their mother’s testimony at face value, despite having been told by their father’s scribe that he had personally witnessed Emma participating in plural marriage ceremonies involving Joseph Smith.

    I look forward to hearing your feedback. Thank you for your comments.

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