Mary was a woman of many names and stories, almost all of them difficult to trace or confirm. She has variously been recorded as Mary Taylor, Catherine Taylor, Mary West, Kittie West, Kittie Gibboney, and Mary Gibboney. One family tree I stumbled upon even had her listed as Kittie Kearl - a likely result of her turning up on a census record with her grandmother, Elizabeth Kearl.
Even more confusing is her year of birth. While pretty well all sources agree she was born on the 22nd of July, the year has been listed as anywhere between 1863 and 1871 - a huge discrepancy even considering the shoddy record keeping of the time. Mary herself seemed to favour 1871 as her year of birth, but as we will see, she either was not actually sure of her age, lied about it at some point, or let those with inaccurate information do the talking.
Also highly inconsistent is her place of birth. While all of my research points to her being born in England (her parents lived there, her brother was born there, and we know she moved from there), she often gave her place of birth as Scotland: her LDS record, boarding pass, and a couple of census records state this, while two other census records say England, and a death certificate for one of her children says the United States. Why she thought she was Scottish is a mystery - her father was born in Ireland and her mother in England.
All of this confusion leads us to...even more confusion. The first time I wrote about Mary, I stated that I had no idea how she ended up in the United States, particularly considering how young she must have been when she moved, seemingly alone (the 1900 census claims she'd been in the US since 1879). Another of her descendants was kind enough to fill me in a little on that - she had apparently been sent to live with her uncle James Kearl in Utah. This makes me wonder if she had been orphaned - we know her father died in 1872, but I have yet to find a record of her mother's death - and sent to the US where she could be with relatives younger than her aging grandmother. It is apparently through her uncle James that she met fellow Mormon William West, a man four decades her senior. Whether their...ahem...relationship was ever made official or not is unclear, but in 1884 (making her, at youngest, 13, and at oldest, 17), she bore William a daughter, Minnie West. Shortly after, William took his family to Canada, leaving Mary behind.
At this point, she somehow made her way to Colorado, where she helped run a boarding house, developed tuberculosis, became addicted to morphine, and met her future husband, Henry Gibboney. Interestingly, her brother James was there with her, though I've found no records of him outside England, and have no idea whether he came to the US with her or showed up later. Henry apparently helped Mary overcome her health issues, and the two were married in 1892.
Mary and Henry went on to have five children of their own, all born in the United States, and in 1911, the family removed to Canada, partly in the hopes of finding Minnie. The two did indeed reunite, and even had a portrait taken together, marking the first photo of them since Minnie was a baby. Mary passed away in 1931, and is buried in Lethbridge*, Alberta, where much of our family remains to this day.
I think about Mary often; not only because her story is a genealogists nightmare, but because it is fascinating, tragic, and makes me wonder so much about who she was as a person. I can't help but wonder how her life - a life that saw her separated from her parents, sent halfway across the world, wed to a man 40+ years her senior, becoming a mother, having her child taken from her and being abandoned, running a boarding house, developing a serious illness and in turn a drug addiction, and getting married once again, all before her 25th birthday - shaped her as a person. A life that almost certainly would have left her wondering where she fit in and who she could trust. A life in which "stability" was likely not part of her vocabulary. I think about how her early life may have informed her later life. Was she a doting mother, or a distant one? Did her inevitable feelings of abandonment make her strong and independent or meek and fearful? I look at the above portrait of her and like to imagine a woman who has seen it all, and survived. A woman who wore the weight of the world on her shoulders, and topped it off with a fancy hat. But the truth is, of course, I have no idea who she really was. It's taken me nearly a decade just to sort out some of the most very basic facts about her, and just when I think I've done that, I am introduced to a new fact that alters everything. Mary may always remain a bit mysterious, but it is that very mystery that keeps me on this journey.
-Mary is buried in Taber, not Lethbridge