The Pretend Husband

Mary Lyon made up a husband.

Mary was the mother of three children: Damsel (b. 1843), John Thomas (b. 1852), and George (b. 1858). Mary told people the father of her children was Thomas Lyon. Her tombstone says that she was the wife of Thomas Lyon. Even decades later, church records were corrected to reflect Mary’s marriage to Thomas.

Except, Mary wasn’t married.

Mary was born in Dowsby, Lincolnshire, England, to William Lyon and Mary Cragg. Mary was the fifth of twelve children.

Mary’s first two children were also born in Dowsby. Damsel’s father was Henry Brown, but John Thomas’ father is not known.

William and Mary joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints around 1849. At the time, most converts to the church would emigrate to Salt Lake City, Utah, to be with other members. In 1855, Mary and her two children sailed with Mary’s parents and several of her siblings to Philadelphia. On the ship manifest, Mary is listed as a spinster.

Mary and George Lyon

Mary with her son George

After arriving in Philadelphia, the family settled in New Castle County, Delaware where Mary may have worked as a housekeeper. Her son George was born here. Again, the father is unknown.

By 1862, the family had enough means to make the trek to Salt Lake City. The following year, Mary joined the church and in 1865, she married John Woodhead. Some time after their arrival, they settled in Hyde Park, Utah, in the northern part of the state.

It’s not clear when Mary began the tale of Thomas Lyon, but stigma against unwed mothers at the time explain the need for it.

The mystery of who fathered Mary’s two sons has been a brick wall for family members for more that 100 years. Recently, my husband, who is a descendant of Mary, through her son George, began identifying descendants of George Lyon, invited them to a Facebook group, and made some connections. He also encouraged people to take DNA tests, hoping to get the best possible sample, in hopes that one day the father of George can be discovered.

One thought on “The Pretend Husband

  1. Laura Mattingly says:

    I have the same situation in my family. A grandson of the single mother told me it “was something they never talked about”. He didn’t know who his grandfather was, though I know he would have liked to. Only DNA will tell now.


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