Ernest, the second of the six children of Alphonse Dontenville and Mary Magdalene Schurra, was born in Saint Maurice, Alsace on February 25, 1890. As a young man he worked as a handyman at Chateau de Castrex in the neighboring village of Thanville.
In 1913 Ernest departed Saint Maurice for Pasadena, California, the home of his father's older brother Wallace. Upon his arrival he changed his last name to Dontanville as Wallace had. He went to Salinas, California to work as a laborer in the construction business of his cousin Wallace Jr. In Salinas he married Mamie Harkins, the daughter of Irish immigrants, who was considerably his elder. There were no children.
Ernest and Mamie eventually moved to Los Angeles establishing their home at 520 Solano Avenue. Ernest was employed by the Southern Pacific Railroad as a freight car inspector. He died on February 3, 1945, just before his 55th birthday. Mamie continued to live on Solano Avenue until her death on February 8, 1950. Both are buried in Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles.