I again had the opportunity to watch a screener for the upcoming Who Do You Think You Are? episode this last week. This one features J.K. Rowling as she sets off on a journey in France to trace her mother’s roots. She discovered that a family war story might not be what she thought when military records revealed a surprising truth. Tracing the trail even further back, Jo learned of her second great-grandmother, who had many struggles both as a poor, single mother and a witness to German invasion during wartime, which forced her family to choose sides in a time of turmoil.
The episode will air on the Learning Channel this Sunday, August 2, 2015. The filming for the program was done on April 6 – 21, 2011, according to info from TLC.
The following cities and locations were visited:
- JK’s Aunt’s home, Edinburgh, Scotland;
- National Archives ofFrance, Paris, FR;
- Chateau de Vincennes, Vincennes, FR;
- Maisons Laffitte cemetery,Maisons-Laffitte, FR;
- Paris Hospital Archives, Paris, FR;
- JK ancestral home on Rue Clauzel, Paris, FR;
- Brumath Town Hall, Brumath, FR;
- JK ancestral home, Brumath, FR;
- Brumathchurch, Brumath, FR.
The following is the gist of the episode:
Famed Harry Potter author and philanthropist, JK Rowling, is eager to trace the French roots of her maternal side, having always been very close with her mother, who’s passed away. She knows that her great-grandfather, Louis Volant, received the Legion d’honneur for his WWI efforts, but she doesn’t know why.
At the National Archives of Paris, Jo pours over Louis Volant’s Legion d’honneur records. She finds a fascinating tale of bravery, but is surprised to realize the man in this account is actually not her ancestor. Since there are no other “Louis Volant”s in the National Archives database, Jo travels to the Military Archives outside of Paris to see if her great-grandfather did, in fact, win a Legion d’honneur award.
At the Military Archives, Jo finds the correct war records for Louis Volant. She learns that in WWI he found himself caught unexpectedly, and with barely any training, in a battle when Germans attacked his regiment in France. Louis Volant heroically took command of his troop and killed several German soldiers to save his regiment. Jo is overcome with tears to find that for his bravery, Louis won the prestigious Croix de Guerre, an award for fighting; and for a soldier, a distinction greater than the Legion d’honneur.
Enthusiastic to continue tracing Louis’s line even farther back, Jo heads to the Paris Hospital Archives to learn about Louis’ early years and his mother, Jo’s second great-grandmother, Salome Schuch.
At the Paris Hospital Archives, Jo discovers that when Louis was born, Salome was an unwed servant working nearby in Paris. As an illegitimate son, Louis’ given last name was “Schuch,” making Jo wonder how he became a “Volant.” Jo sets off to meet with a historian at Salome’s former home where she worked as domestic help to see what else she can uncover about both of her ancestors.
A historian shows Salome’s workplace to Jo, and reveals that Salome would have been out of employment upon having a child. But documents reveal that some years later, Salome moved up in the world, becoming a dress maker and marrying Pierre Volant, who took on Louis as his own son. Next, Jo travels from Paris to the village of Brumath by the German border in France, to learn more about Salome and where she grew up.
At the Brumath Town Hall, a census reveals that Salome had five other siblings and that the family was rather poor. Jo sees that Salome’s father died young, continuing a trend in Jo’s family of single mothers raising children. Salome’s mother’s death certificate creates new questions for Jo as she sees it is written in German and not French; a result of the area changing hands from France to Germany during wartime. To learn more about the German occupation of Brumath, Jo meets with a historian to uncover new information.
Jo visits the house where Salome grew up in Brumath, and learns that during the Franco-Prussian war, Salome and her family endured an invasion of thousands of German soldiers, and found their lives in upheaval as the land, once French territory, became German. Jo learns that townsfolk were given the choice to remain in their homes and become German citizens or move to France to retain their citizenship.
Records show Jo that her third great-grandmother, Christine Bergtold, remained on the now German land, and that her 2x great-grandmother Salome was too young to opt out. However, an opting document reveals that one of Salome’s family members opted in Paris and that Salome joined her there, despite still being a German citizen. Once Salome married Pierre she became a French citizen again, much to Jo’s delight. Jo reflects on the struggle of Salome, all through which she persevered and the traits the two of them share in common.
No mentioned in the program, but uncovered in the research process is the fact that before going off to serve in WWI, Louis worked his way up the ranks as a waiter at a ritzy hotel in London, eventually winning an award for excellence as head waiter.
Again – the program airs this Sunday, August 2 at 9/8c. Don’t miss it! Click on the above WDYTYA illustration for a quick video featuring this season’s celebrities.