I started researching into my Heeks ancestors a few years ago, in 2013. I wanted to find out who my great grandfather was. I didn’t even know his name. It seemed strange and a bit pathetic that I couldn’t even tell anyone who my great grandfather was. His son, my grandpa Charles Heeks (1911 – 2006), died almost ten years ago. Charles, as far as I know, knew very little about his dad because his dad had died when Charles was very young. And my dad, Gordon Heeks, didn’t talk much to his dad about Charles’s dad. So this man, my dad’s grandfather, was something of a mystery. All my dad could tell me was that his grandfather had enlisted in the army just before WW1 so that he could get some sort of payout or pension for his wife and children. He signed up in the knowledge that he was ill and would probably soon die. And then he died, just after WW1, a few years after enlisting. That was the legend! He died of “grinder’s rot”, in my dad’s words. Grinder’s rot is a lung condition you’d get if you’d worked a tool grinding/sharpening machine. According to my dad, who is an engineer and knows about these things, grinders would work with their face right up against the grinding tool. They’d be breathing in grinding dust all day. Horrible job! Horrible death!
My dad pulls a face when he pronounces the words “grinder’s rot”, and nods his head grimly as if to affirm that there are good reasons why you would never want to be a grinder. Grinders died young and knew they would. They knew their fate, so it goes. My dad is also dying from a lung condition, having smoked for the last 50 years. He knows his fate too. He has moments of not being able to breathe in enough oxygen. Moments in time that must feel like drowning.
The legend, as far as I can tell, turned out to be pretty much true. My great grandfather’s name turned out to be William Henry Heeks. I found his army record, which brought him to life, with details such as his size and appearance. He was 5ft 6″, 133lbs, with grey eyes and brown hair. He had “tattoo both arms numerous”. This was an interesting surprise because my dad is tall, at 6ft 3″, and his brother a bit taller at 6ft 5″. Their dad, Charles (1911-2006), was around 6ft 1″. So we imagined that Charles’s dad would be equally tall. And no one in our family has tattoos either, as far as I know. So I was finding out about someone almost alien – a little man plastered in tattoos. And why not?! What could I really have predicted about this man who had lived and died in another age, who had served in the army, who had lived an obviously rough life, dying as he did of grinder’s rot aged 46?
But anyway! I kind of started this post with the intention of presenting what I have found of my Heeks family tree. So here it is, my work so far! I’ve traced back two generations before William Henry Heeks (1872-1918). I have gone back, so far, to his grandparents, Charles (1820-1882) and Ann Heeks (1814-1913):
This full image (above) is not easy to view, so here is a zoomed in image of the main bits:
This is all very much a work in progress. I want to trace back further, but to do that I have to find bits of information which as of yet I don’t know. For example, I’d like to find out about:
- Fanny Bennett (1852-1934) before she married Charles Heeks.
- The parents of Charles Heeks (1820-1882) and his wife Ann (1814-1913)
- Ann’s (1814-1913) maiden name
One of the things I have really enjoyed about this family tree project is finding out that so many of my ancestors lived close to where I was brought up, in Worcestershire. Although I was born in Birmingham (in 1973), my parents moved to Bearswood, Storridge, near Malvern, Worcestershire, in 1976, when I was three years old. I was brought up near to Malvern, in the countryside. I went to primary school in the village of Cradley, and then went to secondary school in Malvern. After leaving school at 16, I then worked in building and farming jobs for a few years in the countryside near Malvern. I had always kind of assumed that because my parents were born and brought up in Birmingham, that a lot of my ancestors would have also lived in Birmingham.
But it turns out, in a nice way, that many of my ancestors actually lived very near to where I was brought up – in and around the Malvern area. I now live, for example, in Malvern Link, which is where my great grandfather, William Henry Heeks, was baptised. His mother, Fanny Heeks (nee Bennett – 1852-1934) was working as a parlour maid at Holyrood House in Great Malvern at the time of the 1871 census. I now work at the Malvern Royal Mail depot on Abbey Road, Great Malvern, which is just a couple of minute’s walk from Holyrood House. My great great great grandmother, Ann Heeks (1814-1913) gives her birth place as Castle Morton. I know Castlemorton well, having cycled over the common there hundreds of times on my way to work in Eastnor, and having swum in Gullet Quarry there as a teenager. In short, I have spent my life walking the same roads that many of my ancestors walked. I have no doubt walked past where they lived and worked. I have spent a large part of my life in view of the Malvern Hills, just as they did. And until recently, I did not know of this happy coincidence, this serendipitous living of lives in the same place. I’d assumed that local history wasn’t my history. But I was wrong, albeit that I hadn’t even really given it much thought in the first place. So I wasn’t so much wrong, but just unknowing or ignorant, with a vague sense that I was not actually from Malvern and was more of an outsider, historically at least.
Another serendipitous thing, here, is that my grandpa Charles (1911-2006) had a grandpa Charles, as well as a great grandpa Charles. And did he know this? Did he know that he was named after his grandfather? As far as I know, my grandpa Charles (1911-2006) knew nothing of his grandparents. I wish he was still alive so I could show him his family tree, to show him where his name came from.
I’ll leave it there for now. I’ll keep researching into my family tree….
If you read this and want to to contact me, feel welcome to do so. I’m hoping that other Heekses out there will read this and compare my findings against their own family tree. Heeks is an unusual enough name to mean that many of us Heekses will be related. It looks as though many Heekses come from the small village of Little Comberton back in 1800 and before. That’s where I’m expecting to find my next generation of Heekses -the parents of Charles Heeks (1820-1882).
A big thanks to Steph Higgs for helping me with the Bradley side of the family. Thanks Steph!