It was like it was meant to be.
Jay Walton quit his job working for his family HVAC business, which had been family owned and operated for four generations. He knew he was following a call when he decided to become a priest – he just didn’t know he would end up, once again, following in the footsteps of his family.
Walton was selected to be rector reverend at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, 9601 Frankford Ave. in Torresdale, and since he started in November he’s been working to make sure the church continues to be open and accessible to all. He also made a personal discovery or two – he’s related to Lt. Benjamin Walton, the cemetery’s first-ever burial, and he’s a direct descendant of Daniel Walton, one of the founders of Byberry Township.
“I left a family business that was my brothers and I was thinking it was time to follow a different path, to follow a call,” he said. “And I realize now, it’s really the same path, but it’s a different line of the family coming back home.”
Walton was unaware of the relationship between the church and his ancestors when he was looking for his next call as priest. There had always been some sense of history in the family thanks to family business Clyde S. Walton Inc., based in Lansdale, but he never knew how deep the connections ran to the area.
“We’ve always been talked about as we’re the Byberry Waltons – that’s the township we came in through,” he said. He remembered his family used to joke they were descendants of people from the Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry.
It wasn’t until after he joined the church that historian Debbie Klak pieced his relation together. When Klak approached and asked him about his lineage, he provided her with Byberry Waltons, a book documenting his family history that contains information about 4,000 Waltons since they first came to the country. Klak already had Walton genealogy before Jay arrived at the church and has used the book to fill in the missing gaps.
“At first I was a little scared of this woman who I’d only met twice and she knows more about my family than I do,” Walton said with a laugh. “But it was genuine interest.”
Walton is the descendant 12 generations after Daniel Walton, one of the four founders of what was then called the Township of Byberry and now simply referred to as Byberry. Along with his brothers Nathaniel, Thomas and William, Daniel purchased land in Northeast Philadelphia from Thomas Fairman of the Society of Free Traders in 1688, giving it the name Byberry.
Daniel, 1660-1719, lived in Byberry Township at a homestead that stood in what is now the vicinity near Comly Road and Roosevelt Boulevard. A Quaker, Daniel was a tax collector of the township and a trustee and member of good standing of Byberry Meeting. He married Mary Lamb in 1688 and they had seven children.
“It’s almost like he’s come full circle with his family,” Klak said.
When Klak began studying the book, she also realized All Saints’ first recorded burial is Lt. Benjamin Walton, a cousin of Jay’s nine generations removed. Other Walton cousins and distant relatives who married into the family are also buried in the graveyard.
Walton joined the church on All Saints Day this year and has been familiarizing himself with the church, the history and the community. He invites people to call him Jay rather than Father or another title to show the church is welcoming to all.
“We’re here to meet people on the journey of their faith wherever they are on that journey,” he said.
He said he’s been impressed with the welcoming community of the church.
“We check egos at the door and when we enter into this place we are all the same person,” he said.
Walton’s 17-year-old son has yet to visit the church. He’s not a big fan of history in general – when he comes from Tucson to visit his father, they go to museums, but his father is always more interested. Walton plans to bring him to the church when he visits over the holidays.
“I think when he comes here and he’s walking through the cemeteries and he sees his name – that will mean something to him,” Walton said. “This is living history. This is reality. These are the people who came before him, and he really understands the concept of family.”