Monday, August 3, 2015

Who Do You Think You Are?: J.K. Rowling

I love it when a family story gets debunked and that is just what happened to J.K. Rowling in last night's episode of WDYTYA? Now that is not to say that I like to see any one's dreams dashed, but history should not be a fantasy.

For those of you who are not familiar with Rowling, who is called Jo amongst her friends and family, she is the famed author of the Harry Potter series of books.

In this episode she explored her mother's French ancestry, focusing initially on her great-grandfather, Louis Volant, who apparently is not to be confused with Louis Volant.

Rowling's family lore had her believing that her great-grandfather, like herself, had been the recipient of the esteemed Legion d'Honneur; France's National Order of the Legion of Honor award first establish by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802. She comes to find out, though, that the Louis Volant who received the honor was not her Louis Volant. 

Who would have thunk that there could be two men with the same name? (This is the point at which hundreds of Harry Potter's drop me a comment to declare their shock and dismay at their inability to cast spells.)

Rowling did learn, however, that her Louis was decorated for his brave service in WWI. And she appeared to be more moved by that knowledge than by the disappointment that he had not received the Legion d'Honneur; as it should be.

She also learned that several generations of her foremother's were single parents, just as she had once been. One of those single mother's was Louis Volant's mother, Salome Schuch and as evidenced by the record of her great-grandfather's birth at the Paris Hospital Archives, Louis was illegitimate. As an illegitimate child he was given his mother's maiden name at birth. Later documents reveal Salome, the single Parisienne servant, eventually becomes a dress maker and marries Pierre Volant, who took on Louis as his own son.  However, it is still unclear if he was or was not the biological father of Louis. Now there was a time when genealogists would have shrugged and left the paternity a mystery but now with the ubiquity of DNA testing, we might be able to resolve that question for Rowling.

As I often say, life is a struggle! There is no shame in survival. Legitimate or not, recipient of a one award or another, the struggles of Rowling's ancestors is still something she should be quite proud of; as should you be of your forebearers.

Next week's episode of WDYTYA? on Sunday, August 9 at 9 p.m. on TLC focuses on the ancestry of actress Alfre Woodard.

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