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[Disney History] The Origins of the Disney Family


Did you know that some of Walt Disney’s ancestors were French? They came from a small seaside town in Normandy: Isigny-sur-Mer. To what era do these origins date back?


Europe at the heart of their history 

In 1066, the Battle of Hastings, in England, was fought. 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 victory of the Normans, William was crowned King of England and the Norman lords started claiming English lands. Amongst those lords were Hugues Suhard and his son Robert from Isigny-sur-Mer. They ended up changing their last names and became Hugues and Robert d’Isigny. This name was Anglicized and as the years passed, 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 December 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 as he had genealogical research 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 with his wife Lillian and his family. 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 on Jan. 8, 1936, in a ceremony at the Disney studio presided over by Jean Joseph Viala, French Consul in Los Angeles.


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 across the globe. Do you know the exact location of the one in Disneyland Paris? You may have also noticed that some of the restaurants in Disneyland Paris serve butter from Isigny-sur-Mer. And if you ever happen to go to Isigny-sur-Mer, don’t forget to go for a walk in the Walt Disney gardens……



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Disney Magical Kingdom Blog: [Disney History] The Origins of the Disney Family
[Disney History] The Origins of the Disney Family
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