Joseph Smith taught that "Seeking after our dead is the most important responsibility we have to perform in this life...if we neglect it, it is at the peril of our own salvation." When Joseph Smith introduced the concept of performing ordinances for the dead, one of the first women into the water was his wife, Emma. She was baptized for her father, her mother, her uncle, her sister, and her aunts, all of whom had rejected the gospel in this life. (Later, the baptisms for the men were redone by men, as that necessity had not been understood at first.)
Emma was the first woman in this dispensation to receive her temple endowment and sealing. She was also the first female ordinance worker. Throughout the year of 1843 and into the early part of 1844, she administered temple ordinances to many women, in her home and in the red brick store before the Nauvoo Temple was completed.
ROOTS AND BRANCHES
To live, a plant must have roots and branches. A tree with branches but no roots is just a temporary decoation, and a tree with roots but no branches is a stump. The punishment to the wicked is that they will have neither. "For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch." (3 Nephi 25:1) Those who have the spirit of Elijah will live because they will be bound to their ancestors and to their descendants. Family history and temple work goes both directions. This is why without the sealing power the earth would be smitten with a curse. (See 3 Nephi 25:6)
While Joseph Smith was alive, he and Emma taught their children the gospel. When Joseph left his family for the last time, he asked, "Emma, can you raise my sons to walk in their father's footsteps?" She cried, "Oh, Joseph! You're coming back!" He asked the same question again and she gave the same response. He asked the third time, and she began to cry. At the time of Joseph's martyrdom Julia was 13, Joseph was 11, Frederick, 8 and Alexander, 6. David would be born that fall.
After that fateful spring, counting the widows of Joseph's brothers, his mother Lucy Mack Smith, Don Carlos's (his brother for whom the baby was named) wife Agnes, Samuel's wife Levire, Hyrum's wife Mary Fielding, and Emma, there were seven Smith widows, and more than two dozen children left without fathers. All of them faced great hardship. It was at this point that these women made tough decisions that affected their families for generations.
At Joseph's death, Emma understandably entered into a state of depression. Previously she had been very social, very outgoing and hospitable, but now she withdrew from friends who desired to help her. She remained charitable, continually taking needy children into her home, and constantly serving her mother-in-law, but she kept her feelings to herself and chose to stay in Nauvoo with her mother-in-law, when the Church migrated west.
We could never place ourselves in Emma's shoes to understand or judge why, but she did not raise her children in the faith of their father as he had begged her to do. She did not teach her children anything about the gospel, and all she told the younger ones about their father was that he was a good man. Don Carlos's wife remarried and her new husband moved her away and made her promise that she would never mention that she was a member of the Church, or a sister-in-law to Joseph Smith. This was to ensure her freedom from the persecution of the past. Emma seems to have taken the same approach.
Lucy Mack Smith also stayed behind. She had three older daughters at home, and she continued to teach them the gospel, at great effort, but with no Church unit or Priesthood leadership in Nauvoo, it only lasted for one generation.
For four generations, none of Emma's and Joseph's descendants belonged to the Church, and the majority of them did not even know much about it. The Smith family tree had no permanent branches.
Meanwhile, Mary Fielding Smith took her children on to Salt Lake City amid great hardship, and lived only four years after arriving there. Prophets and apostles descended from her line, including President Joseph F. Smith, President Joseph Fielding Smith, Elder Melvin J. Ballard, and Elder M. Russell Ballard.
THE PROMISE TO EMMA
A few weeks before Emma died, however, she had a dream, which she related to her nurse. In the dream, Joseph took her to a beautiful mansion and showed her through many apartments. In one of the rooms she saw a baby in a cradle and recognized it as her baby, Don Carlos, who had died at age 14 months. She had previously said that he had been the hardest baby for her to lose because she had had him the longest and had more time to grow to love him. With great joy she rushed to him and snatched him up and held him tight, and asked where her other children were. Joseph replied, "Be patient, Emma, and you shall have all your children." Then Jesus Christ appeared standing beside Joseph. It seemed the heavens were smiling upon Emma for all she had endured. And yet her actions after Joseph's death had a consequence. She would have to wait for someone else to teach her children and grandchildren the gospel before they could be hers again. It would take over 100 years.
On the 17th of March, 1956 a bud broke out on the stump of the Joseph Smith, Jr. family tree when Gracia Jones, Emma's great-great-granddaughter joined the Church. She was a teenager, and a Mormon family for whom she babysat introduced her to the gospel after she told them that the picture on their wall was her ancestor. She knew nothing of the Church. As the missionaries handed her the Book of Mormon, before she even opened the book, she was filled with a burning, and she heard the words, "It's true, it's really true."
With the zeal of a new convert, Gracia caught the Spirit of Elijah. She innocently did her four generations of genealogy and submitted the chart to Church headquarters, linking herself to Joseph and Emma. When that chart arrived in Salt Lake City, the Brethren were understandably shocked. They sent a representative to Gracia's home in Montana. Then they encouraged her to seek out the rest of her family and bring the gospel to them, which she has taken on as a life-long mission. She has worked on both roots and branches of this family tree, doing temple work, locating relatives, traveling the world to meet them, taking them to the Legacy movie, putting their names on her huge family chart.
17 years later, Michael A. Kennedy, another descendant of Joseph's and Emma's, joined the Church. As a teenager, he was asked to do a school report on an ancestor. He asked his father for information. His dad brought out a box of family photos and records to the coffee table and said that some of their ancestors were famous for starting the Mormon Church. Mike decided that would make a great report, and started spreading out the materials. Just then--just then!--the doorbell rang. It was the Mormon missionaries. They were invited in. The missionaries glanced at the coffee table and were understandably surprised to see a picture of Lucy Smith. “I told them I was writing a report on my ancestry and had decided to pick a topic on some guy who started the Mormon Church,” Mike said. “They went ballistic. I think they tried to give us all six discussions in the next ten minutes.”
It took a few years, but Mike finally joined the Church as a young adult in 1973, attended BYU, married in the Provo Temple, and joined the work of gathering the family. He was the first direct descendant to become a priesthood holder. He is currently chairman of the board and president of the family historical society, which produced the wonderful feature film, "Emma Smith: My Story." (Gracia Jones is also a board member and chief historian.) The society has produced a new DVD, "Children of Joseph: The Unknown Story," about the family after Joseph's death, which I am going to order this very minute! Their website is http://www.josephsmithjr.org/.
Emma Smith's sacrifice for the restored gospel of Jesus Christ was immeasurable, and despite the choices and circumstances that left her posterity adrift from it, the promise of her deathbed dream is being realized. After four generations, the Smith family tree once again has branches. Emma's children are coming home.
(Sources: Ehat & Cook, The Words of Joseph Smith, p. 106-107; Stanley B. Kimball, On the Potter's Wheel: The Diaries of Heber C. Kimball, p. 56; Hyrum L. Andrus, They Knew the Prophet, p. 147; Gracia Jones, Emma & Joseph: Their Divine Mission, p. 292; Gracia Jones, "My Great-Great Grandmother, Emma Hale Smith," Ensign, Aug. 1992, p. 30; Gracia Jones, "Choices and Consequences: Traditions of the Mothers--Lucy Mack Smith and Emma Hale Smith," BYU Campus Education Week lecture, August 23, 2001. )
To read Gracia Jones' conversion story, see My Great-Grandmother, Emma Hale Smith in the August 1992 Ensign.
To read Michael Kennedy's conversion story, go to http://newsnet.byu.edu/story.cfm/54186
To read Michael Kennedy's testimony, go to
For a fun article about the first huge family reunion of Joseph and Emma's descendants, follow this link.