Even more confusing is her year of birth. Depending on the source, it could be anywhere from 1863 to 1871. I lean towards the late 1860s, but thought I should include all the conflicting information so that you can decide for yourselves what is most likely:
- The 1871 census has her living with her maternal grandmother, and lists her age as 5.
- Her marriage record (first marriage, to William West) lists her birth year as 1863, but "1870" is written right above it.
- The 1900 census has 1866 as her birth year.
- Her border entry data (from her move to Canada from the U.S. in 1911) states that she is 40, making her birth year 1871.
- Her Patriarchal Blessing claims she was born in 1870 (she would have given that information herself).
It appears that Mary herself favoured 1870 as her year of birth, but as the census of 1871 has her listed as 5, this is unlikely - no census taker would mistake a baby for a five year old, and there were no other children living in the home at that time. 1863 also has its problems, as it's equally unlikely they would mistake an 8 year old for being 5, and we also know from family history, some of it recorded at the time, that Mary was extremely young when she had her first daughter, Minnie. As Minnie was born in 1884, a date in the late 1860s seems to make the most sense - back then, 21 (her age in 84, had she actually been born in 63) was certainly not "extremely young" to be having a child. I tend to believe Mary was probably born between 1866 and 1869, but was herself unsure of her own year of birth.
And that is where it gets interesting - even back then, when record keeping was a bit shoddy, why would one be so unsure of their own age? It turns out that Mary was unsure of much more than just this, which forms the beginnings of her story. As I mentioned earlier, the 1871 census has her living with her maternal grandmother. There are several possible reasons for this - she could have merely been visiting the day the census taker came around, she could have been sent to live there by her parents, or one or both of her parents may have died. She would later claim to be an orphan, but no conclusive evidence has been found for this. Also interesting is her place of birth - all early records list her as being born in Hampshire, England, but she would later claim to have been born in Scotland. Why she felt she was Scottish is unknown - her father was born in Ireland, and her mother in England, but this is the information she would give on various records in her later life.
The conclusion I have come to is that Mary was born in the late 60s, and was quickly sent to live with her grandmother - likely because either both her parents, or just her mother, passed away. This would explain her confusion regarding her year and place of birth - she would have had to rely on her elderly grandmother to provide her with this information. What I find a bit confusing, however, is where her brother James, born around 1869, ended up. Did he pass away as well, or was he sent elsewhere? Why would he not have been sent with Mary?
Another mystery is how, when, and why she ended up in the United States. The only record we have of her travels implies she migrated in 1879 - this would make her rather young, by all accounts, to be travelling alone. It is possible she lied about her age (which would lend to the confusion), or that the 1879 date is incorrect. In any case, she was in the U.S. by 1883, when she married William West. How they met is yet another unknown, as he was far older, already married, and had a child Mary's age. Plural marriages were not uncommon then, so the idea of him taking a second wife is not unusual, but given her very young age and vague details of her travels, it is curious how they may have met and why he desired such a young bride that late in his life.
In 1884, Mary and William bore a daughter, Minnie. It seems that the couple split up shortly thereafter - Mary apparently requested her LDS sealing to William be cancelled in 1885. Many family rumours abound regarding their split, and what happened to Mary afterwards, but none of it can be confirmed. All we know for sure is that Minnie was left with William and his first wife, and raised as their own. Interestingly, both Mary and William landed in the same part of Alberta, Canada, seemingly with no idea the other was there. It is likely they both ended up there as a result of Mormon migration. Minnie and Mary, however, remained out of contact until after William's death. By this time, Mary had married Henry Gibboney and had several more children.
The later years of Mary's life are just as much a mystery as the early years - several family members have offered stories of "Grandmother Gibboney", but they have all had to seek them out as well. It seems Mary was not incredibly open to talking about her life, or perhaps was unsure of the details herself. Mary and Henry remained married until Mary's death in 1931 - he passed away in 1947.
The Gibboney family remains in Alberta.