The daughter of actress Blythe Danner and producer/director Bruce Paltrow, Gwyneth Paltrow has Hollywood roots. But the actress looked past her famous family to explore her ancestors’ extraordinary stories during her episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?”
Gwyneth began by researching her mother’s side of the family at the New York Public Library. She finds an obituary for her great-grandmother Ida May Danner, which lists her parents as David and Isabel Stoute Yetter. Isabel’s death certificate indicates her a full name is Rosamond Isabel Yetter, born in Barbados, West Indies, and she worked as a domestic servant.
Using this information, Gwyneth finds Isabel and her sister Martha on a passenger list for a commercial sailing ship traveling from Barbados to America. The pair are the only two passengers on this voyage, somehow managing to travel on cargo ship instead of a passenger ship. Isabel is age 18 when she immigrates to America.
Gwyneth then travels to Barbados to find out more about her great-great-grandmother Isabel. At the department of archives, she searches baptismal records, discovering Isabel’s father was a merchant clerk a respectable middle class occupation. She then searches a burial register, finding Isabel’s mother and father were both dead by the time she was 13 years old. (For more on searching vital records, see our on-demand webinar.)
During Isabel’s time in Barbados, females greatly outnumbered males, so marriage prospects were very limited. Job opportunities were also in short supply for unmarried white women because free black women in Barbados would work for lower wages. And without family ties except each other, Gwenyth concludes the sisters moved to the United States to see what opportunities awaited them there.
Gwyneth then researchers her paternal grandfather Arnold “Buster” Paltrow’s family. Buster often spoke ill of his mother Ida Hymen Paltrow’s parenting skills, and she seemingly exhibited signs of a severe depression. Gwyneth wanted to know more about Ida and what may have caused her depression.
Ida attended Hunter College, known as Normal College in 1897 when she studied there. The school was a teacher’s college, the top profession for a New York woman. Ida was often absent, according to student registries, and she was discharged from the school in 1898. Death certificates for Ida’s mother Rebecca Paltrow and Ida’s brother Samuel Paltrow indicate Ida attended to them as they died months apart in 1897, explaining her absences from college.
Gwyneth continues her search at the New York City Municipal Archives. The 1920 census lists Ida’s family with the surname Paltrowitz. Ida’s oldest daughter Helen Paltrowitz, who was 1 in the 1910 census, is not found in the 1920 census. Gwyneth then searches death records, discovering Helen died at age 3 when she was run over by a wagon. Gwenyth concludes these tragedies contributed to Ida’s depression.
Gwyneth then focus on one last ancestor, Ida’s husband Meyer Paltrowitz. She discovers Meyer’s grandfather was Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Pelterowicz, a master of Kabbalah, a set of esoteric teachings meant to explain the relationship between an eternal and mysterious creator and the mortal and finite universe. Books about Hirsch indicate he was regarded as an extremely holy man and a miracle worker. (For more on tracing Jewish roots, see our guide.)
“WDYTYA” airs Fridays at 8pm EST on NBC. Check the Genealogy Insider blog for a brief recap of each episode.