With her 47-foot-long family history chart, white GMC van containing a small icebox, portable toilet, gas stove and a back seat that turns into a bed, and the help of her husband-turned-chauffeur, whom she lovingly calls "Ivor the driver," Gracia N. Jones travels the United States. Her purpose: to help the descendants of Joseph and Emma Smith learn about their heritage.
Jones, the great-great-granddaughter of Joseph and Emma, devotes her life to reaching out with love and compassion to unite her extended family and create understanding throughout the world regarding the legacy of her ancestors.
"We call her our matriarch. She is the matriarch of the Joseph Smith family," Darcy Kennedy, secretary and treasurer of the Joseph Smith and Emma Hale Smith Historical Society, said.
Jones, who is a member of the Flathead Indian Tribe through her father, grew up on a dairy farm on the reservation in Montana. From a very young age, she learned the importance of hard work by helping with the daily chores.
Growing up, Jones knew little about her relationship to Joseph Smith. She related an occasion when her mother saw the Prophet's name in her history book. Telling Jones he was her great-great-grandfather, she quickly urged her not to share that fact with anyone.
Jones' knowledge of the Prophet grew when she began babysitting for an LDS family, who eventually introduced her to the missionaries. When she was baptized in 1956 at age 18, Jones became the first descendant of Joseph Smith Jr. to join the church and remain active.
As a member of the church, Jones grew in her understanding of Joseph and Emma, and while she did, she began to notice a pattern.
"Everyone considered it an honor to be a descendant of Joseph, but not Emma," Jones said.
Once when Jones was looking at a painting of Emma hanging on the wall in her Relief Society, another sister said that her husband thought they should not display "that woman's" picture on the wall. Reactions such as this held her back from wanting to research her ancestors more, she said.
Her trepidation faded in 1972 when Buddy Youngreen contacted her. With a charge from President Harold B. Lee to gather the descendants of Joseph Smith Sr., Youngreen organized a reunion that year. Despite being days away from delivering her eighth child, Jones eagerly participated in the reunion with zeal before going into labor on her way home, Youngreen said.
With a fresh perspective gleaned from the reunion and the help of church scholars such as Richard L. Anderson, Truman Madsen and Hugh Nibley, Jones actively began to research the lives of her ancestors, particularly Emma.
"She became one of the primary experts. There are probably less than a handful of people that know Joseph and Emma as well as she does," Michael Kennedy, third great-grandson of the Prophet and friend of Jones, said.
In 1992, Jones wrote an Ensign article titled "My Great-Great-Grandmother, Emma Hale Smith," which Michael Kennedy cites as a turning point in Latter-day Saints portraying Emma in a positive light. Jones has since authored three books, including "Emma and Joseph: Their Divine Mission," and assisted in the production of the movie "Emma Hale Smith: My Story."
Jones has been a popular speaker at BYU's Campus Education week for the past 10 years, where she shares her knowledge of Joseph and Emma as well as techniques for reaching out to family members beyond the traditional family reunion. Many people attend her classes year after year, so Jones tries to add new things, present older material in a new way and further build credibility beyond being a family member by being a careful historian.
"I have studied (Emma's) life so much it is a pleasure for me to to talk about her and her family to help people know her better, too," Jones said. "It is a story that really belongs to the whole church and not just our family."Comment on this story
As chief historian for the Joseph Smith and Emma Hale Smith Historical Society, Jones now spends much of her time contacting and visiting Joseph and Emma's posterity. She and her husband, Ivor, have personally visited with more than 400 Smith descendants worldwide.
"This is her life. She eats, sleeps, breathes Joseph and Emma and their children," said Angeline Kennedy Washburn, daughter of Michael and Darcy Kennedy.
"Everybody does something," Jones said. "Some crochet, others knit. I do family history."