With the final installment of the Harry Potter franchise, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows - Part 2 opening in London this past week, and in the U.S. on July 15th, it seems only fitting to once again delve into the interesting ancestry of Harry Potter series author JK Rowling. Especially since she will also be appearing as the first celebrity on the upcoming season of BBC's Who Do You Think You Are?
UPDATE: The research presented below is actually incorrect because it assumed that Legion d'honneur award recipient Louis Volant was actually J.K. Rowling's great grandfather, as was stated by J.K. Rowling and expanded on in many news outlets. In actuality, it appears that two different men of the same name were confused and he is not her great-grandfather after all. See The "Real" French Ancestry of J.K. Rowling for more.
JK Rowling's ancestry, on her mother's side, includes a French connection. This, of course, interests me due to my own French roots. Her maternal great-grandfather, Louis François Alexandre Volant, was born 16 July 1878 in the eastern French village of Ordonnaz to schoolteacher Louis Pierre Volant and Marie Alexandrine Fodéré.1 Following the births of two more children in Argis, the family settled in Jassans-Riottier where Louis grew up.2
Shortly after the death of his mother in 1897, Louis Volant made his way to London, England, working his way up as a waiter to the position of sommelier at the Savoy Hotel.3 It was in London that he met Eliza Mary Ann Smith, the daughter of boatman Henry Smith and Elizabeth Hunter, who he soon married in Gorleston, Norfolk on 22 January 1900.4 The couple settled in a large house in Camden, London, where they had four children: Marcel, Gladys Marion, Ivy Florence, and J.K. Rowling's grandfather, Stanley George Volant.5
Louis Volant maintained French citizenship and dual residency throughout this time, including service in the French military in which he was conscripted on 14 November 1899. He served out his required two years in the active Army with the 23rd Infantry Regiment, including promotions to Corporal in March 1901 and Sergent in August 1902, followed by a move to the Reserve Army on 1 October 1902. In late 1912, he was transferred to the French Territorial Army, and mobilized with the 108 Territorial Infantry Regiment (RIT) on 2 August 1914, the day before Germany declared war on France.
While serving with the French Territorial Infantry during World War I, Louis Volant was evacuated once due to illness (typhoid) and twice due to serious injuries, but returned to the front against the German forces each time. By the end of the war he was disabled by persistent confusion, blurred vision in both eyes, multiple facial scars, a prosthesis replacing a portion of his jawbone, and other injuries. Louis Volant was demobilized on 12 July 1919, but separated from his wife, and remained in France. He was finally released from his 25-year military obligation to France on 1 November 1924, and named in the honors list that same month as a Chevalier of the Legion d'honneur for his bravery and service at Verdun.6 Louis died on 13 August 1949 in Rhone, France.7
Unfortunately, Louis Volant's health wasn't the only Volant family casualty of World War I. His brother, Jean-Marie Volant, a sergent in the 44e Régiment d'Infanterie, lost his life during fighting at Cauroy lès Hermonville in Marne, France on 16 April 1917.8
Louis Pierre Volant, father of Louis Volant, was born in Lyon, Rhone, France, on 7 January 1854 to an unknown or at least unnamed father (père inconnu) and mother Benoit Louise Volant.9 He married Marie Alexandrine Fodéré, daughter of Jean-Baptiste Fodéré and Modeste Audaz, on 7 June 1877 in Ordonnaz, Ain, France,10 and they were parents to three sons: Louis (born 16 July 1878), Jean-Marie (born 25 June 1880) and Gontrand (born 14 January 1882).11 As previously mentioned, the family settled in Jassans-Riottier, where Marie (Fodéré) Volant sadly died on 4 February 1897. Louis Sr. continued living and working there as a teacher after her death.
1. Ordonnaz, Ain, "Actes de l'Etat Civil, Registre des Actes de Naissance, 1878," entry 14, Louis François Alexandre Volant, 16 July 1878; digital image, Archives Départementales de l'Ain, Les Archives Numérisées (http://www.archives-numerisees.ain.fr : accessed 6 July 2011).
2. 1896 census of France, canton Lhuis, arrondissement de Belley, Ordonnaz, p. 2, no. 3, family 3, Louis Volant; digital image, Archives Départementales de l'Ain, Les Archives Numérisées (http://www.archives-numerisees.ain.fr : accessed 6 July 2011).
3. David Harrison, Patrick Sawer, and Kim Willsher, "JK Rowling's Great-Grandfather was a French First World War Hero," The Telegraph, 7 February 2009, Web edition (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/celebritynews/4548877/JK-Rowlings-great-grandfather-was-a-French-First-World-War-hero.html : accessed 6 July 2011).
4. England, marriage certificate (photocopy of original register entry) for Louis Volant and Eliza Mary Ann Smith, 1900; citing 4B/4, Yarmouth registration district; General Registry Office, Southport.
6. Louis François Alexandre Volant, numéro matricule du recrutement 499, 1898; Registres Matricules Numérisés, Bureau de Bourg, Ain; digital image, Archives Départementales de l'Ain, Les Archives Numérisées (http://www.archives-numerisees.ain.fr : accessed 6 July 2011).
8. Jean-Marie Volant, numéro matricule du recrutement 219, 1899; Registres Matricules Numérisés, Bureau de Bourg, Ain; digital image, Archives Départementales de l'Ain, Les Archives Numérisées (http://www.archives-numerisees.ain.fr : accessed 6 July 2011).
9. Lyon, Rhône, Naissances, 1854, 1st Arrondissemont, entry 26, Louis Volant, 7 January 1854; digital image, Archives Municipales de la Ville de Lyon, Archives en Ligne (http://www.archives-lyon.fr : accessed 6 July 2011); citing cote 2E501.
10. Ordonnaz, Ain, "Actes de l'Etat Civil, Registre des Actes de Mariage, 1873-1877," 1877, entry 5, Louis Volant and Marie Alexandrine Fodéré, 7 June 1877; digital image, Archives Départementales de l'Ain, Les Archives Numérisées (http://www.archives-numerisees.ain.fr : accessed 6 July 2011).