by: Treelines Team
Jim Parsons, the well-regarded stage & screen actor, is researching his paternal side in memory of his father, who died young when Jim was in his 20s. At the beginning of his journey, armed only with documents and photos his mother found, he can trace back to his great-great-grandmother, Adele Drouet, who was born in New Orleans. This provides a glimmer of hope for the French connection Jim is hoping to find, so off to New Orleans he goes to dig deeper.
Right off the bat on Ancestor he finds on the 1850 census the name of Adele's father-in-law, his three-times great grandfather. And he is a doctor!
It turns out that Dr. Hacker was quite a remarkable man for his time. He was a physician in a very rural area of Louisian, probably the only doctor for miles around. And he was only the 55th graduate of Tulane Medical School!
Jim is especially moved by Dr. Hacker's work during the 1853 yellow fever epidemic which killed 8000 people in New Orleans alone. At the time no one knew how the disease spread, but Dr. Hacker risked himself to treat those who were ill. "That's a real commitment certainly to your chosen work, but it's also a commitment to your humanity in general," Jim reflects.
Though Dr. Hacker was only in his mid-40s at the time, this work was to be amongst his last. On the morning of December 7, 1854, the steamboat on which he was traveling with his nephew and daughter, caught fire, and all three perished.
"He's one of those people that, when they're gone, you have to sit back & wonder, 'What else would you have done?'"
Unfortunately the Hacker line "got lost in the document trail," but tracing a different part of Jim's Louisianna ancestors finally got him his French connection -- and more! In this line it was his 4x great-grandfather Prosper who was born in France.
Off to Paris and the French National Archives goes Jim in search of more, and it doesn't take long before Jim discovers another remarkable ancestor, Prosper's grandfather Louis François Trouard, Architect to Louis XV, King of France!
Louis François's father was a middle-class marble supplier to the king, but Louis François rose to travel in the most elite artistic circles in France.
How? He studied at the Royal Academy of Architecture, where he won first prize in 1753 and then a scholarship to board in Rome to continue his training with the expectation he would one day serve the king. And indeed, in 1769, when he was just forty, he became a member of the Royal Academy of Architecture, a rare honor, and in 1787, shortly before he turned 60, he became an Architect of the King, First Class.
Jim learns much of this while standing the middle of a beautiful church in Versailles designed by his ancestor, who lived and worked there. What an amazing moment!
Of course, 1787 is only two years before the French Revolution, when it was dangerous to be so closely connected to the king, even for architects! Four were executed, 25 imprisoned, but Trouard survived pretty unscathed.
It turns out that he was a key figure in the redesign of churches in the Age of Enlightenment, the philosophical movement which led to the French Revolution, and was friendly with the radical thinkers of his age, including a leading figure, Father Raynal, who lived with him for a time and with whom he hosted Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, who were then in Paris to raise support for the American Revolution!
So in the end, Jim found the hoped-for French and artistic connections, but more than that, he found a story of a father and son not unlike him and his father. Louis François' father, like Jim's, enabled him to pursue his artistic leanings, a gift for which Jim remains grateful.
At the end of his journey Jim reflects that that his father would have admired both Hacker and Trouard for their work ethic. "It just was a constant devotion to getting the job done as best you could. That's something my father passed down to me."