Monday, April 4, 2011

Belated thoughts on the Gwyneth Paltrow episode of "Who Do You Think You Are?"

It's been a lazy weekend for blogging - sorry for the delay, folks!

  • I think Gwyneth Paltrow's family background is more and more an example of the typical American background - an eclectic mix of countries and religions all coming together in this "melting pot." I'm kind of jealous of the variety she has, from the British from Barbados to the Polish rabbis - I'm proud of my heritage but sometimes I feel like it's your standard, boring old-school American ancestry of half-and-half (although not straight-up half-Irish, half-German, when I explain to people who aren't into genealogy my background, that's how I simplify it.)
  • I enjoyed Gwyneth's Barbados journey, especially when she was speaking to the historian. Not all of us can be experts in every time period we have family members in, but I think that's what we have to try to do if we're interested in the stories behind the names and dates. We might not have letters or documents detailing the motivations for the decisions our family members made, but to use Gwyneth's family as an example, we can look at what was going on in Barbados at the time, what society was like, to try to figure out why an 18 year old girl would have been desperate to leave there and travel to America...my mom had a similar project like that in college, where she was given a name, a birth date and place and a death date and place, and she had to research what was going on in that place at that time to develop a fictional but accurate life story for that person. I always found that fascinating. And that's what we do with our family trees.
  • This episode, unlike the Steve Buscemi episode, epitomized for me how much hand-holding the program does for these celebrities. All Gwyneth did was travel to different locations (Municipal Archives shout-out!) and get folders or books handed to her. If only our research was so simple!
  • I liked that Gwyneth was interested in the stories and motivations of her ancestors - I think she called them "more than names and dates," which is what people sometimes forget. I particularly liked her trying to understand her great-grandmother, the reasons behind why she turned out to not be such a great mother to Paltrow's grandfather. And there were reasons.
  • Paltrow said to her mother, Blythe Danner, how when you go through all the lines and all the generations, you see "echoes," traits and personalities and stories that get repeated from parents to children to grandchildren. In her case, she mentioned children who look up to and love their fathers as well as people who are seeking a deeper spirituality. I also enjoy that part of genealogy - we enjoy finding those who are different and exotic but we also look for ourselves in these family members.
  • She also mentioned how she wished she could have shared what she found out with both her father and grandfather and I think about that, too, all the things I've discovered that I think my mom or my grandparents would have found interesting, that we could've enjoyed learning about together, but I think those who have passed quite possibly may already know these stories from the people who lived them themselves...at least I hope so!

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