Gwyneth Paltrow visits Barbados seeking rootsGwyneth Paltrow strolling across Roebuck Street during a break from filming. (Sandy Pitt)
By Natanga Smith Hurdle | Sun, April 03, 2011 - 12:00 AM
When Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow jetted into Barbados last month with her daughter Apple, 6, and son Moses, 4, it was not for an idyllic vacation but a quest to uncover her family history for an episode of NBC’s TV series Who Do You Think You Are?
And she discovered a lot. Her great-grandmother Rosamund Stoute was Barbadian.
Starting with a visit to the New York Public Library and armed with photographs of Rosamund, Paltrow, 38, who was born in Los Angeles to actress Blythe Danner and movie producer Bruce Paltrow, who passed away in 2002, searched obituaries and census records for information of her mother’s maternal side and found the names of her grandmother Ida Danner and her parents. On Ancestry.com, Paltrow found out that her great-grandmother Rosamund, then 18, and her older sister were the only two passengers on a commercial ship going to New York.
Fast forward to Barbados and Gwyneth is walking on a beach wondering why Rosamund would leave Barbados at such a young age. To do this, she has to get help from a local historian.Professor Dr Pedro Welch Jr was instrumental in helping Gwyneth discover unknown facts about her great-grandmother and on Friday, the day the episode aired, he sat down with the SUNDAY SUN to reveal his role in it.
Welch has been living in the world of history for over 20 years. He has published many articles, a couple of books and given extensive lectures. This was not his first time being involved in a television series where celebrities were searching for their family history.
In 2008 he was approached by the BBC, which airs the British version of Who Do You Think You Are? The subject was Ainsley Harriott, a celebrity chef and TV presenter. His ancestry was also found in Barbados but unfortunately, she was a prostitute. She owned property in Nelson Street and James Street and later on her son became a policeman.
For Gwyneth’s journey, Welch said he was contacted last year by NBC. “They called me and told me that they had information on Rosamund Stoute who migrated to Philadelphia around 1868 and that she was a white Barbadian. They gave me bits of information and asked me to validate the evidence.”
The professor, son of former parliamentarian Maizie Barker-Welch, said he was never asked to sign a confidentiality contract but was asked to keep the matter secret – which he did.
But he had to get help and took into confidence Dr Patricia Stafford at the Barbados Archives who helped him go through many records. What they found was that Rosamund’s father was a merchant clerk who came from My Lord’s Hill, St Michael, and married a woman who had a small property and they lived on Roebuck Street, Bridgetown.
“Up to that time I did not know who the celebrity was. I only had a first name – Gwyneth.”
When asked if the name rang a bell, he replied matter-of-factly: “No. I do not watch television that much or those movies, for that matter. It was only when she left after the interview that I looked it up and realized she was in Iron Man.”
The one-hour episode on NBC last Friday night featured about ten minutes of her trip to Barbados.
First was the beach scene (location not revealed) with the beautiful sand and inviting sea and bright blue sky. It was a windy day, because her hair was blowing behind her and it looked much like a photo shoot.
Kicking her feet in the sand, Gwyneth was seen pondering why her great-grandmother left Barbados at 18 years of age. The camera then cut to a room in the Barbados Archives where she was meeting with Stafford, who showed her baptism and death records of Rosamund’s parents, Samuel and Sarah Stoute. Upon hearing of the death of the parents and realizing that the two sisters were now orphans, solemn music introduced Gwyneth lamenting: “That’s so awful. . . . So sad.”
Stafford, it seemed, could not tell Gwyneth any more information and she was referred to Welch.
Next frame showed a black Range Rover – passenger: Gwyneth. She was going to meet Welch. She arrived at a plantation-style house with a beautiful garden; then the customary handshake and they both sat down to business.
“The setting was not my house,” said Welch. “We met at Holders House – fitting, as this plantation house was an important aspect of Barbados’ past. She had some of the documents she wanted me to see and she asked me the reason behind the emigration of Rosamund.”
At that meeting, Gwyneth got a history lesson about Barbados’ past.
“I told her that the father, being a merchant clerk, [did not have] a very important occupation . . . . Therefore the family was not well off.
“Emancipation was 1834. Rosamund was born 1850. In 1868 there were not many opportunities for poorer Whites – especially women.
“Rosamund was a seamstress and she had to compete with other black women in the same profession.”
Jobs were in short supply in those days, Welch added, and marriage prospects were limited.
Gwyneth was shown a picture of a schooner by Welch, the type of boat the sisters would have left Barbados on. It was a cheaper option and the sisters were the only two passengers on the boat carrying salt and other colonial wares.
Gwyneth was happy to know that her ancestor, Rosamund Stoute, “had gumption. It definitely takes guts to travel at such a young age to a place you know nothing about. I can see where I get my sense of feeling I can do anything”.
Welch said he was happy to be part of the series and to talk forever on matters pertaining to history.
“I also discovered that when Rosamund reached New York, she later married a small farmer.
“I also found out Paltrow, this gorgeous, vivacious young woman, has a mixed background. She also has Polish ancestry.”
What viewers didn’t get to see was Gwyneth soaking up the Caribbean sun with her two children during breaks in filming.
She appeared carefree as she showed off her incredibly lithe physique in a series of skimpy bikinis as she played around in the waves with her two children. Her Coldplay rocker husband Chris Martin was nowhere to be seen: he is believed to have kept out of sight in their luxury villa at the exclusive Sandy Lane Resort.
During the trip, Gwyneth was spotted strolling around Bridgetown, taking time to chat and have her picture taken with delighted Bajans. She braved the scorching temperatures in a casual grey shift dress and flip-flops, tying up her blonde locks into a loose bun.
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