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Bill Paxton

Bill Paxton - Who Do You Think You Are? There is something emotionally significant about discovering a Revolutionary War patriot in your family tree. The idea that your own ancestor somehow contributed to the birth of a new nation may set off an explosion of patriotic anthems in your mind and unearth a desire to know how they helped secure American independence.

Once you know where your ancestors lived during the time of the American Revolution, you can better pinpoint the types of records available in that region and what insight they may offer into the life of your ancestor in the late 18th century.

While researching Bill Paxton’s tree, we found that his ancestor Benjamin Sharp lived in Virginia during the Revolutionary War. This led us to various documents regarding his service in the war as a spy as well as his involvement at the Battle of Kings Mountain at age 18. One of the most powerful was an article Sharp wrote in his twilight years about his war experience that was published in the American Pioneer magazine in 1842.

By Sharp’s late 30s and early 40s, he had started a family, settled a farm, and owned a significant amount of land. Land ownership is often a key to finding other records that can fill in the blanks about your ancestor. Because Sharp owned quite a bit of land, it was likely that he would be found in county court records for land purchases and the like. When we looked into the county court minutes, we quickly found him there.

Court records in Virginia and Missouri (where Benjamin later lived) showed that Benjamin Sharp worked as a surveyor, a justice of the peace, and other bureaucratic positions at the county level. This bread crumb of information gave us direction to find Sharp’s political history. Because he was politically active at the local level, it is likely that he was working his way up through the bureaucratic ranks and that his local involvement had national implications.

We found that during the U.S. presidential election of 1800 between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, Sharp served as one of the commissioners overseeing the election. Commissioners were responsible for making sure the election went smoothly and verifying the ballot counts. The record of Sharp’s political service is in the executive papers of the Virginia governor, who was James Monroe (who later became president himself).

Research Manager on Project:

Paul K. Graham

Project Hours:

109 hours

Paul conducts research on families across the English-speaking world, but with a focus on genealogical problem solving among those in the U.S. South. He earned a master’s degree in public history and holds the Certified Genealogist and Accredited Genealogist credentials.

Paul has authored or co-authored numerous books and articles, including Georgia Courthouse Disasters and Georgia Land Lottery Research. His publications have earned him the National Genealogical Society (NGS) Award for Excellence and the American Society of Genealogists (ASG) Scholar Award, and he is a winner of the NGS Family History Writing Contest. Paul’s television credits include research on seven episodes of "Who Do You Think You Are?": Blair Underwood, Paula Deen, Jim Parsons, Valerie Bertinelli, Bill Paxton, Alfre Woodard, and Courteney Cox.

Paul began his career as a title examiner in Georgia, where he gained valuable knowledge of property and probate law and records. He has performed genealogical research for clients since 2004. His personal research interests include mapping and land ownership; documenting urban families; military history; African American family history; and Native American family history.