“Looking for William Moulton,” Ensign, Apr. 2001, 43
Looking for William Moulton
Our search for our English ancestor led us to records in an old vault—and much more.
Our family had been searching for records on our ancestor William Moulton since before I was born. Everyone calculated that William had been born about 1780 in or near Irchester, England, and my grandfather and great-grandfather had spent considerable energy trying to find his name in the parish records. They had also hired an English research specialist who had searched 132 English parishes but to no avail.
Shortly after my grandfather died, my dad, Heber Moulton, dreamed that Grandpa came to him and cautioned him not to “drop the ball” on family history research. My dad and his cousins didn’t drop the ball. As a small child, I remember overhearing them talk about how to find William Moulton, and their talks always ended with an expression of trust in the Lord. They spent years organizing the family, holding reunions, creating the Moulton Research Foundation, raising money for research, and doing temple work. About 7,000 descendants of William Moulton had been identified, and all of them could trace themselves back to William. But who was William?
A Call to Fast Together
Despite these diligent efforts, there were no new clues on William. The family decided to have a day of fasting and prayer. Family leaders mailed letters to all descendants for whom they had addresses. The letter said in part: “We’ve made good progress on some of the other lines, but not on the Moulton line. It seems right for us now to come to the family and ask for a day of special fasting and prayer. Open your fast with a special prayer to our Heavenly Father that He will bless those researchers who are working with us that we may come to know the parents of William Moulton.”
Many of William’s descendants did as requested. Days and months passed.
Nothing new on William. Finally, Dad decided to put an ad in the Irchester area newspaper requesting contact with any Moulton. He received an answer from the newspaper editor asking for more information. Hopeful, Dad sent the requested information, but he did not receive a reply. More time passed. Disappointment.
A Trip to England
Shortly after that, my husband, Rayman, and I had the occasion to go to England. Before we left, I felt strongly we should look for William Moulton. My patriarchal blessing promised that if I pursued family history, my ancestors would petition our Heavenly Father for a blessing for me. I felt also that the fasting and prayers by William’s now-distant offspring would help prepare the way for us.
As we prepared for our trip, I tried to live close to the Lord so He could guide me. I read and studied. I got a list of several parish graveyards to check. And one day, I went to the temple with the express purpose of gaining insight on how we could find William Moulton. I left the temple feeling we would find William or the clues we needed to find his parents. There was no doubt in my mind.
We arrived in Irchester, England, one afternoon and promptly asked for directions to the historic parish church. Walking down picturesque streets and passing homes with thatched roofs was like a step back in time. We arrived at the parish church, but, to my dismay, we saw that many gravestones had been used to create a fence around the perimeter of the parish lawn. Windblown and worn, these stones were undecipherable. As if to reflect my emotions, clouds gathered and gentle rain descended.
We quickened our pace until we reached the rear of the old church and proceeded to examine the remaining gravestones. Thorns, weeds, and bushes stood in the way. We knew we must work quickly because there were no motels or guest houses in the village. We had to finish our search before the final bus departed.
I took out a clean cloth and used it to scrub the gravestones. Soon a man, curious about our activity, came over and expressed dismay about the disarray of the parish church grounds. Then, in a compensating tone, he asked if we would like to view the parish records. My heart began to pound. He said he would go with us to fetch Mr. Bailey, who, if he wasn’t too busy, would likely let us see the records.
We gathered our belongings and headed up the street to Mr. Bailey’s home.
Upon our arrival, Mr. Bailey stopped painting his house and immediately went with us to the parish church. He said the vicar wasn’t around, but that if we were careful, he would show us the records himself.
Curious and reverent, we entered the ancient church. I was immediately awed by its splendid beauty. Here our ancestors had worshiped. My eyes gazed from massive ceilings to marble floors, from wooden pews to stained-glass windows. They finally rested on a very old vault near a window.
We followed Mr. Bailey to the vault, where precious vital records had been preserved. Mr. Bailey unlocked the vault and began taking out book after book. The search began as we gently but excitedly examined parched pages. Soon we found records of William’s children, marriage records, and so forth. This energized us, and while Mr. Bailey and Rayman searched some books, I searched others.
Then we found it—the clue! Rayman found an entry for Wm. Moulton, age 60, 1812. Age 60! Researchers had assumed that William had died as a young man. After recalculating his birth, I went back in the birth records but did not find him listed. However, I did find a record listing him as a bachelor, eliminating the possibility of an earlier marriage and family. We took photographs of the evidence.
Meeting English Cousins
The story doesn’t end here. The man who had fetched Mr. Bailey returned and informed us that he had just talked to people at his work. One of them had worked with a Charlie Moulton years ago—the only Moulton they knew of in Irchester. Our friend did not know Charlie’s address, but knew he lived in a narrow house opposite Bradshaw Street. With full hearts, we expressed our gratitude and carefully placed the books back in the rustic vault. The clouds parted and the rain lifted. The sun warmed us.
Our next challenge was to find cousin Charlie. We had just left the parish property when up strode a Scotsman. He was very interested in what we were doing and inquired where we were going. Upon our answering the Scotsman remarked, “Well, I am going that way myself. I don’t know Mr. Moulton, but come along. Let’s go.”
Trying to keep pace with the Scotsman, Rayman and I trotted briskly up the hill. After a while, he paused, commenting, “Now, a narrow house opposite Bradshaw Street. It must be that one there. Yes. That one right there.” We thanked him, and he walked away.
I knocked on the door, but no one answered. We went next door and knocked. An 80-year-old man opened the door. It was Charlie Moulton, who was there caring for his sick elderly neighbor. I explained that I was from America and had come to find some information about the Moulton family. Since the sick neighbor was resting, Charlie took us over to his house. He said he had been expecting us to come and that he had set out for us some information and addresses. He chatted about his relatives and of their leaving England to make new homes in America.
How did Charlie Moulton know we were coming? Why had he decided to gather information and set it out? Why was he expecting us? Trying to piece these unusual occurrences together made little sense until Charlie mentioned something about a recent newspaper article. A newspaper article? My mind raced back to Dad’s efforts in submitting an ad to the newspaper months ago and the disappointment when nothing had come from it. Could it be that the information had been published? Indeed! That was the first evidence we found that it had been published, but what timing—only the week before we arrived.
Charlie gave us addresses of his relatives and told us of a cousin Ada living on Thrift Street. We had no sooner started in search of Thrift Street when we met the same Scotsman, who immediately directed us to Thrift Street. When we entered the home, the woman who had answered the door called into the other room, “Your friends from America are here.” Then she said to us, “We’ve just been talking about you.” I tried to say something like “I don’t think she was expecting us,” but by now it was evident the way had been prepared and the Lord’s hand had been involved. After sharing Moulton family history with us, Ada’s friends insisted we spend the night with them.
Researchers took the information to which we had been led and later identified William, his parents, brothers, and sisters. The family had lived a few miles from Irchester. Their temple work has now been done, as well as another generation located, along with their children.
After arriving home, we sent copies of the Book of Mormon as “thanks” to those who helped us. We have heard from some of them, thanking us, finding much interest in the book. Seeds have been planted and influence spread. The story, I think, will never end.
An Unselfish Work
“What a glorious privilege to do the work for those who have gone on before us. This aspect of temple work is an unselfish work. Yet whenever we do temple work for other people, there is a blessing that comes back to us.”
President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95), “A Temple-Motivated People,” Ensign, Feb. 1995, 5.