Exhibits & Events
“A Scrap-Book for the Ages:”
Matrilineal Genealogy and Four Alices of the Weekes Family
By Dara Shore
In traditional genealogy, family lines are described as stretching into the distant past along the fathers’ side. However, this practice often ignores the rich history of the women of a family. For this reason, matrilineal genealogies — those traced along a female line — can provide a wealth of information on the female members of a family.
Raynham Hall’s new exhibit focuses on the lives of women of the Weekes family, a prominent Oyster Bay clan related to the Townsends of Raynham Hall. The four women featured in this exhibit come from families whose men included ship owners, settlement-founders, and even a United States President — Franklin Delano Roosevelt. With such prominent individuals represented by a traditional genealogy, it can be easy to forget the accomplishments of the female members of the Weekes family. As such, the use of a matrilineal genealogy allows the achievements of the Weekes women to shine.
In this exhibition, the four Alices include a mother, daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter. That four successive generations of women in this family bore the name “Alice” illustrates a tradition that stems from the extraordinary nature of each Alice, and allows the matrilineal line to be emphasized more clearly despite the absence of a last name common to all of them.
The four Alices are as follows:
Alice Russell Howland Delano (1806-1834) was born into a founding family of New Bedford, Mass., and her father was successfully engaged in the coastal trade between New Bedford and Alexandria, Va. At age twenty, a few days after marrying trans-Atlantic packet-ship captain Joseph Clement Delano in December of 1825, she went to sea with her husband to England and back aboard the Columbia, where she used her social graces to keep passengers’ spirits high, all the while keeping a high spirited diary of her experiences, including her visit to London. Tragically, Alice died in childbirth at the age of 27, and all five of her children died in childhood save her daughter Alice.
Alice Hathaway Delano Weekes (1827-1917), the daughter of Alice and Joseph Delano, lived a relatively quiet life quite unlike that of her mother. In 1849, she married John Abeel Weekes of Oyster Bay. Like her mother, she did not stay in one place for long, travelling throughout Europe and America with her husband. This Alice was the first to compile a scrapbook of letters, sketches, and other ephemera pertaining to her mother and the rest of her family, a book she later passed on to her daughter. Alice Delano Weekes had six children, among whom is the next woman in our exhibit.
Alice Delano Weekes (1878-1949), unlike her mother and grandmother before her, never married, instead living with her brother Frederick. In many regards Alice Delano Weekes lived much the same privileged life as her mother. However, Alice was also an accomplished artist and writer of ornithological and horticultural treatises, family histories, and etymological articles, as well as transcriptions of earlier pieces pertaining to her family. The reflective life this Alice lived stands in contrast to the life of the final Alice of our exhibit.
Alice “Wynne” Delano Weekes (c.1900-1964) was the niece of the previous Alice, being the daughter of her brother, John Abeel Weekes, Jr. The world in which this Alice chose to live was a different one from that of her predecessors. Breaking radically from the domestic lives of her ancestors, Alice became an accomplished ballet dancer under the assumed name of Alice Wynne. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Alice performed at many prominent venues, mostly in New York, dancing for renowned choreographer Michel Fokine in his corps de ballet, and also performing in a 1937 recital at the White House of her distant cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Like her aunt, Alice never married. Most remarkably, for a dancer, Alice is reported to have been completely deaf.
The Friends of Raynham Hall are grateful to the Weekes family, the Ann Eden Woodward Foundation, Astoria Federal Savings and the Oyster Bay Historical Society for their essential support in bringing this exhibit to life.