WDYTYA Episode 207: Gwyneth Paltrow

This week’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? returns to a more traditional research methodology, starting from what is known, and moving backward to illuminate the unknown.

While many critics will note that the star did not engage with much of the research, and was being handed hours of research in a moment, I appreciated the use of family lore (a Barbados background on the mother’s side; a line of rabbis on the father’s side). Instead of making assumptions that this lore was genuinely true, the researchers took it as clues to what they might find. There was an acknowledgement that the lore could be true or false, mis-remembered, misunderstood, or very very close.

In addition to the lore about the line of rabbis and the ancestor from Barbados, the third interest for Ms. Paltrow was finding out if there was any way to understand what had happened in her paternal grandfather’s youth to make him reticent to talk about it other than to say that he did not live in a home like she did. She discovered details about her great grandmother, the losses that she endured, which helped her put it in perspective. This would have been a perfect opportunity to discuss the change, historically, in life expectancies. Someone in the middle class losing a child today is more rare than it was 100 years ago.

The episode was entertaining, and provided an opportunity to see spectacular vistas of Barbados as well as consider how varied American families are. Ms. Paltrow was visibly moved by some of the discoveries. This was a solid episode, which would still have been improved with a brief statement of the amount of research done to get to these discoveries; however, I know that contradicts with the Ancestry.com marketing message, which can be boiled down to: “This is so easy, even you could do it!”

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