William was the son of Richard and Fanny Lister. He was born on board the ship Berlin on the Atlantic in 1849. On the same voyage his father died and was buried at sea; his widowed mother remarried to Samuel Gould. In the 1850 Utah census mother and son were in the Gould household. In the 1860 Utah census the family is misnamed "Joel." In the 1870 Utah census he is William Gould. In the 1880 Utah census he is W. Ward Listor.