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Jim Parsons

When we went digging into Jim Parsons’ family tree we found his third-great-grandfather was Jean Baptiste Hacker, a physician who was raised in New Orleans but moved to Plaquemine, Louisiana, after starting his medical career. Just a few years later, Dr. Hacker, along with his daughter Leocadie and his nephew, was killed in a tragic fire on board the steamboat Gipsy in December 1854.

Using newspapers, we were able to document the accident in an article titled “The Burning of the Gipsy” on the front page of the Daily Picayune newspaper in New Orleans. The story was also printed in newspapers across the country, such as the Liberator in Boston, Massachusetts. Newspapers provided facts about the event that could not be found in any other record.

We also used newspapers to learn about historic events that occurred in places where the family lived, such as the yellow fever epidemic in Plaquemine in 1853.

Newspapers can provide context and color to your family story, as well as obituaries and notices of marriages, births, graduations, court proceedings, and other noteworthy events in an ancestor’s life. And they are getting easier to find each day as more and more titles are digitized and added to online collections.

Learn more about Jim’s journey or watch the full episode on TLC.com. Watch more celebrities discover their family history on all new episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? Tuesdays 9|8c on TLC.

Research Manager on Project:

Paul K. Graham

Project Hours:

505 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.