I never knew my mother’s father, John Leon La Walla, and maybe that’s why I was always curious about him. He migrated to the city of Melbourne, Australia in the 1920s, married, and started to raise a family, but died in World War II. All we had was one framed photo of him dressed in his army uniform.
A family rift meant my grandfather had not kept in touch with any of his relatives, although my mother did recall some family names. It wasn’t till 1963 that she finally saw her father’s grave, in the Albury War Cemetery in New South Wales. I fiercely wanted to know more about this man. Who were his parents and siblings? Were any of them still alive and, if so, where were they now? Did they ever wonder what became of our John Leon?
With the advent of the internet, I started searching in earnest in the late 1990s. From my grandfather’s enlistment records, I learnt he’d listed his birthplace as Hertfordshire, England. “I think his surname must have been an alias,” my father said. The mystery rankled but I put it aside, concentrating instead on my father’s line. I joined a genealogy website and was soon discovering the dark secrets of some of my ancestors from distant relatives. I commented, “I just wish I could find out about the mysterious past of my mother’s father now,” and told them of my search.
In late 2012, I heard from a very distant relation on my father’s side called Julie, from New Zealand. As a mad-keen genealogist herself, she’d taken pity on me and spent several weeks on research. It was a bombshell when she said she may have traced my maternal grandfather’s family.
She’d searched English census records and found the surname Waller. The dates and first names matched, right down to a brother who’d died on the Western Front. Julie had overcome the alias, traced a whole tree and put me in touch with current-day relatives.
“Consider it an early Christmas present,” she said. Julie had done all this meticulous research for a virtual stranger. I will be ever grateful.