Maine Genealogy Blog

A Mormon's Marriage and Divorce Discovered

The LDS church's interest in genealogy is rooted in theology, but millions not of the faith have benefited from its efforts to preserve and disseminate genealogical resources—first via microfilm at Family History Centers and now through digitization and the FamilySearch website. As a consequence of this interest and these efforts, the lives of Mormon pioneers are often remarkably well documented. It was a surprise, then, to stumble upon evidence that one of these pioneers had married in Maine, that the marriage was dissolved here, and that these facts had escaped the notice of history.

Earlier this year, while researching and writing an article on divorce in nineteenth-century Oxford County (to be published in a future issue of Goose Eye), I was looking for examples of legislative divorce in the online catalog of the Maine State Archives. Divorces were generally handled by Maine's Supreme Judicial Court, and records of divorces granted will be found in the records of that court—indexed here, with images for most counties available at FamilySearch. But for a number of years in the 1800s the Maine State Legislature found itself with jurisdiction over divorces that lay beyond the court's reach. One particular case of legislative divorce caught my eye, because a name sounded familiar.

"An Act to dissolve the bonds of matrimony between Aaron M. York and Mary Ann York" was signed into law in 1853. Two Aaron M. Yorks lived in Maine around this time, an uncle and his nephew, both from Bethel, and both distant cousins of mine. I knew that the uncle had gone west with the Mormons years before. The younger Aaron had married and moved to Caribou. Curious to learn why the legislature had taken up the case, I requested a copy of the record, which was delivered by email the next day.

The petition read as follows:

To the Senate & House of Representatives of Maine in Legislature assembled
Febry. 1853,

Your petitioner Aaron M. York of Bethel in the County of Oxford respectfully represents that he was married to Mary Ann Stearns in 1850. That said Mary Ann lived with your petitioner about three weeks & then deserted him, & has refused to live with him since. That said Mary Ann soon after her desertion left the State & joined the Mormons, & now lives with the Mormons on Salt Lake. That your petitioner applied to the Supreme Judicial Court for a divorce, which the Court refused to grant because the desertion had not been continued so long as required by provisions of the Revised Statutes altho said Statute provisions were then repealed.             Aaron M York

The date of the divorce fit well with the known history of the younger Aaron M. York, who married again in March 1853. The identity of his first wife, Mary Ann, quickly became clear as well. She is identified in their marriage record in Bethel as "Miss Mary Ann J. Sturns."

Aaron and Mary Ann married and separated a few months before the 1850 census was taken. Though Aaron claimed that she had left the state "soon after her desertion," a Mary Ann York appears in the census living in Bethel in the household of Aaron and Susan Frost. Living in the same household were Mary Ann Pratt and two Pratt children. In his History of Bethel, William B. Lapham states that Aaron and Susan Frost's daughter Mary Ann married Nathan Stearns. (Their daughter Lidana (or "Lardana") Frost was the mother of Aaron M. York, making the divorced couple first cousins.) Lapham fails to note that Mary Ann (Frost) Stearns married next Mormon leader Parley Parker Pratt. The 1850 census had caught Mary Ann (Frost) (Stearns) Pratt and daughter Mary Ann (Stearns) York near the end of a three-year stay in Bethel.

In a series of autobiographical sketches published in The Relief Society Magazine, begun in 1916 and continued in 1917, the younger Mary Ann recounted the events of her early life and young adulthood, but omitted any mention of her time in Maine around 1850 and of her first marriage. This was perhaps for good reason: She married her second husband, Oscar F. Winters, on Aug. 16, 1852—some six months before the legislature put an end to her marriage in Maine.

 Published June 18, 2022