"Who Do You Think You Are?" Season Two: Episode Seven

by Julie Hill

Posted on April 7, 2011

barbados_stamp.pngAmerican actress Gwyneth Paltrow was featured on the latest episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?" which aired Friday, April 1st. Starting out, her story was similar to that of many beginning family historians. She knew bits and pieces about her ancestors but wasn't sure what was fact and what was fiction.

One of the myths passed down to her was that someone on her mother's side of the family came from the Caribbean, possibly her great grandmother Ida Danner. Paltrow visited the New York public library to investigate, and determined it was actually Ida's mother Isabel Yetter who was born in Barbados. Curious to learn more, through a passenger list record Paltrow found that at age 18 Isabel set sail from Barbados to America along with her sister on a commercial vessel. Begging the question - why did Isabel decide to leave everything behind and journey to America?

Through a visit to Barbados, and consultations with professional genealogists and historians, Paltrow learned that Isabel was orphaned at 13. Due to lack of job opportunities and marriage prospects, it's likely that she decided to leave to look for a better life in America.

Moving to her father's side of the family, Paltrow was interested in learning more about her great grandmother Ida Hyman, mother to her grandfather Buster. Paltrow had heard mostly negative stories of her great grandmother, like how she wouldn't cook for her children or clean the house. Through academic records, Paltrow discovered that at one time Ida had been a good student, and had attended college to become a teacher.

By tracking down Ida and her family in the 1890 and 1900 census, Paltrow learned that in 1897 both Ida's mother and brother died, resulting in her discharge from college that same year. In another tragic accident, Ida's daughter Helen also died at three years old in 1912. Due to the number of tragedies that Ida had experienced, Paltrow was able to feel a new compassion for her great grandmother.

Paltrow's last goal was to learn more about her Jewish heritage, as she had heard that there may have been a rabbi in the family on her father's side. It turns out, that Ida's husband Meyer's grandfather was a renowned rabbi in his community, and practitioner of Kabbalah - something Paltrow herself studies.

Paltrow was excited to uncover more about where she came from, and said that through this journey she came to understand different pieces of herself much better. Remember, family history research isn't just for celebrities. Archives makes it simple and affordable to get started by offering free resources, like a weekly expert article series written by professional genealogists. Click here to learn more.

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