My father, Leslie Walsh learnt of his father’s real name – Philip Barrios - about 30 years ago, casually, at a family funeral. My mother, Marie, then decided to write to all the people she could, with the same surname – Barrios –in the state of Texas; a tall order indeed. Texas was where it was believed Philip came from. Needless to say there were no replies.
I myself was just 10 years old at the time when I learnt what little information that my parents had managed to piece together about of my grandfather. Until my father reached his early teens, he had always believed that his mother was his sister and his brothers and sisters his aunties and uncles, and was raised by his grandparents. They did all they could to ‘protect’ him from the truth about his illegitimacy until old enough to know otherwise.
Armed with no more about my grandfather other than a name and that he possibly came from Dallas, Texas, I flew there nine years ago aged 31 to try and find him. I was between Houston and Dallas, checking at records offices and various libraries. I remember being at the huge library in Houston on my penultimate day, going through microfiche phone records of 1941 – 42, when a curious librarian approached me to query what I was looking for exactly. I told her my story so far. She said that if his surname was Barrios, then it was highly likely that his first name was Felipe, not Philip and I should try looking under the letter F for a first name.
I guess that journey, if nothing else, served the purpose of giving me my grandfather’s real name…how naïve. Feeling deflated at returning home somewhat unsuccessfully, but with another possible name at least, I continued my search. Periodically, I would find myself in front of a computer and try to do some searches using his name, but never felt near to answers. I have mostly been a manual worker anyway and computers essentially baffled me.
I went to live in Spain where my son was born. I got offered a position with a real estate company as I had learnt the language and managed to convince them I could be useful. Whilst there, I became internet savvy and it was purely by chance that one day I came across the www.gitrace.org website. I followed instructions and eventually posted a message. As always, there were many encouraging replies and following advice, and armed with such little info, I wrote to Niels in Missouri.
Imagine my surprise when he sent me an envelope some 7 weeks later, an envelope I might add, that I opened with great trepidation.
In the envelope, was a UK indoctrination sheet, half burnt from the great fire at the records office, a final pay slip of his and his army records forms. Feeling no less than euphoric, I wrote to GItrace guys who then found his address for me in Douglas, Arizona, on the Mexican border.
To cut a very long story short, I have just returned from a trip to meet my family there. I have uncles, aunties and cousins galore between Phoenix and Douglas as well as in California. I also have my grandfather who is still going strong and was incredibly touched that I had found him. I learned a few wonderful facts, like that he fought at the Battle of the Bulge and that both his parents were pure Indians (Mexican).
Like everyone else in my position has said, never give up hope, it’s the one thing that will give you an answer either way, for better or worse. I had always prepared myself for the worse and know how extremely fortunate I am to have found these roots, have questions answered and to have met my grandfather Felipe Z. Barrios and his truly wonderful extended family.
God bless GI TRACE and every one of you still searching for answers.
Thomas K Walsh