Joseph Fielding Smith was born in Salt Lake City on 19 July 1876, the son of Joseph F. Smith, sixth president of the Mormon Church, and grandson of Hyrum Smith, brother to Joseph Smith, the church's founder. He grew up on the family farm in Taylorsville in Salt Lake County. He was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and ordained by his father in April 1910. Their combined years in the apostleship spanned in unbroken chain more than one hundred years.
Joseph Fielding Smith married Louise Shurtliff on 16 April 1898 and they had two daughters. She died on 30 March 1908. He then married Ethel A. Reynolds on 2 November 1908 and they had nine children. After her death in 1937, he married Jessie Ella Evans on 12 April 1938.
As a young man, Joseph Fielding Smith labored as a missionary in England from 1899 to 1901. Upon his return, he was employed by the church as a historian, becoming Assistant Church Historian in 1909 and Church Historian in 1921. He continued to hold this position until he became the president of the church. His most significant historical work was Essentials in Church History. First published in 1922, this volume passed through twenty-four printings and numerous foreign translations. He also compiled and edited what is perhaps the most often cited volume in Mormon literature--The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (1938), a book that has also seen many reprintings.