Emmy-award winning actor Jim Parsons, better known as Sheldon Cooper on TV’s “The Big Bang Theory,” was on the LSU campus this summer filming a segment of TLC’s reality series “Who Do You Think You Are?” This documentary-style television series pairs celebrities with history experts to go on a personal journey to discover their roots through historical materials. The episode featuring the LSU segment will air on tonight — Tuesday, Sept. 10, at 8 p.m. CST on TLC.
During filming, which took place in July, Parsons spent the day in LSU’s Hill Memorial Library delving into archives to learn more about his family history in Louisiana. In 1842, Parsons’ great, great, great, great, great-grandfather, Dr. Jean Baptiste Hacker, graduated from the Medical College of Louisiana. Hacker was an expert in yellow fever and published a significant article on the disease in 1854 in the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal, copies of which are held in the Hill Memorial Library. Hacker’s life was tragically cut short just a few months later when he was killed a steamboat explosion on the Mississippi River. Articles about his tragic death were uncovered from newspapers in LSU Libraries Special Collections.
Parsons will appear on screen with professional genealogist and researcher Judy Riffel, who is a frequent visitor to the collections at Hill Memorial Library. Riffel did the research in order to shape parts of Parsons’ visit to LSU and to other parts of Louisiana.
“One of the things Jim hoped to find during his journey into his family’s past was a ‘French connection’,” said David Gardner, who directed the episode and is a producer for the series. “That quest took him to Louisiana and to LSU’s campus, where genealogist Judy Riffel had conducted initial research into Jim’s family on the show’s behalf. Jim met Judy at the Hill Library, where he learned that his Louisiana heritage traced back to 18th-century France. He was especially delighted to discover that he and Judy shared a connection in the past – their ancestors were neighbors in Iberville Parish, and it was Judy’s own research into her family background at LSU’s archives that allowed her to uncover Jim’s family history. Our entire production crew had a really great experience working at LSU, and we are especially grateful to the staff at the Hill Library as well as the university administration for their warm welcome in Baton Rouge while we filmed Jim’s episode.”
Parsons, who is originally from Houston, clearly enjoyed his visit to LSU, and the staff and students at Hill were pleased to be part of this unique opportunity. The scenes filmed at Hill feature the beautiful McIllhenny Room. The room is named for Edward Avery McIlhenny (1872-1949), scion of the prominent Louisiana family which, since 1868, has produced the world-famous Tabasco hot pepper sauce. The McIllhenny Collection, housed at Hill Memorial Library, is one of the most prestigious natural history collections of its kind, with particular strengths in New World botanical and ornithological illustration.
“’Who Do You Think You Are?’ is a fascinating show that not only tells the audience interesting family histories and mysteries, but it also is a wonderful opportunity for a wider audience to gain some awareness about the importance and significance of archives and special collections libraries,” said Jessica Lacher-Feldman, head of LSU Libraries Special Collections. “It is my hope that this show continues to inspire people to learn more about their past, and about our collective past. That is one of the many, many ways archives have a direct impact on our lives and the world around us.”