Son of Hyrum Smith and Mary Fielding, Joseph F. (Fielding) Smith was born 13 November 1838 at Far West, Missouri. His early childhood was spent in Nauvoo, Illinois, and Winter Quarters, Nebraska. Orphaned at thirteen, he was called on a church mission to the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands at the age of fifteen, and subsequently filled missions to England (1860-63) and Hawaii (1864). He also served as European Mission president (1874-75, 1877).
Smith was called to the Salt Lake Stake High Council in 1859, and in 1864 began service in the Church Historian's Office with recorder responsibilities for the Endowment House, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the First Presidency. Ordained an apostle and counselor to Brigham Young in 1866, Smith also served in the First Presidency under John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and Lorenzo Snow.