Did you know that some of Walt Disney’s ancestors were French? They hailed from a small seaside town in Normandy called Isigny-sur-Mer. What era do these origins date back to? Who were these past generations of Disney?
Europe at the heart of their history
In 1066, the Battle of Hastings was fought in England. It confronted the Norman-French army of William, the Duke of Normandy and claimant to the throne of England, to the Anglo-Saxo army of King Harold Godwinson. After the Normans’ victory, William was crowned King of England and the Norman lords were Hugues Suhard and his son Robert from Isigny-sur-Mer.
They ended up changing their last names, and then on were known as Hugues and Robert d’Isigny. This name was Anglicized and as the years went by, eventually transformed into “Disney.” Hugues’ descendants stayed in England for several centuries and gave their name to the village of Norton Disney.
A departure to America
During the English Restoration — a period in the 17th century during which the Monarchy returned to the throne after the first English Revolution — a branch of the Disney family emigrated to Ireland. In 1834, Walt’s great-grandfather, Arundel Elias Disney, left Ireland to settle in Ontario, Canada.
His son Kepple and his wife gave birth, in 1859, to Elias Charles Disney — who became Walt’s father on Dec. 5, 1901. Elias, his father, and his brother left Canada to go to the United States of America in 1878. Walter Elias Disney, his brothers Herbert, Raymond, Roy, Oliver, and his sister Ruth were the first generation of Arundel Elias Disney’s family to be born on U.S. soil.
A lasting bond
Walt was aware of his origins, thanks to genealogical research he had done in the 1950s. He knew France very well, as his first visit was in 1918 when he joined the Red Cross Ambulance Corps in France.
He went back several times over the years with his wife Lillian and his family. On Jan. 8, 1936, Walt received the Legion of Honor award — “l’ordre national de la Légion d’honneur au grade de Chevalier” — which was signed by His Excellency the President of the Republic of France and presented in a ceremony at the Disney studio presided over by Jean Joseph Viala, French Consul in Los Angeles, Calif.
These genealogical researches resulted in the creation of a family coat of arms inspired by Normandy, which you can see on some of the Disney Parks castles around the world.