The Heckenbach Surname

Before the end of the 14th century, things were on such a small scale that common people in Germany had no need of last names. About that time, however, the population grew, the need for taxation increased, and people began to trade and settle in other places. So the citizens acquired last names. This trend had begun with the wealthier families but now filtered down to the lower classes. These new names came from a man's trade, from some physical characteristic, or from his father's name. There are two explanations of place-names as surnames. Since ours was never a family of lords, it must be that some medieval ancestor of ours moved from the village of Heckenbach, out to a neighboring village. He thus acquired his name. It was a local name, an Eifel name, tied to one geographic location, not one like Miller that could have originated anywhere.

The earliest record I've found was in Frankfurt in 1597, although the spelling was a little different, but that was only because of early record-keeping there. Church records in the Eifel were kept only after the Reformation, beginning around 1650, but much later in some towns. The books for the town of Heckenbach begin in 1654, but there were no Heckenbachs in it by then, although a couple of families lived there for a time in the 1800s. There are several records from Ahrweiler from the 1600's. By 1720, there were more instances of the name Heckenbach in Niederzissen, Wehr, Ober-and Niederdürenbach, and Niederlützingen, wandering eastward to the Rhine. There was also a large family in Wittlich on the Mosel River.

Our first direct ancestor shows up in 1735. He moved to Brohl from Niederlützingen and the municipal record states that he was a well-to-do man.

There were other Heckenbachs in a dozen towns in the area. They may have been distant relatives of this one, or descendants of others who had wandered out of the village of Heckenbach years earlier. They have fanned out ever since, even if originating at one location.

In 1977 I found 26 Heckenbachs listed in the Rhineland's telephone directories. There were others in scattered parts of Germany. For most of them, any kinship with us would evidently go back very far, and be impossible to prove, although I sometimes find some more closely related.

I'm interested in all of these family lines and would like to ask for contributions of information.

Christian and John Adam were the ancestors of about 50 US Heckenbach households a generation ago, and surely more today, virtually all the Heckenbachs in the US.

There are a number of exceptions however, who are unrelated:

  1. Mathias Heckenbach, age 45, a baker from Baden, and his wife Magdelena age 43, and daughter Barbara age 5, arrived in Philadelphia on 1-8-1846 on the Bark Manchester.
  2. Ottomar Heckenbach belonged to the 15th Regiment, New York Heavy Artillery, New York Volunteers as a private. He was a doctor. He was from Berlin.
  3. John Heckenbach, age 36 (1834) shows up in the 1870 US Census in St Joseph, Buchanan County, MO.  He appears with Rosina Heckenbach (presumably his mother age 72) (1798), a wife Sophia age 28 (1842), 5 children: "Clam" age 10, Emma age 8, Sophia age 7, John age 5, and Caroline age 3. Rosina and John were born in Würtemburg, Prussia. Sophia was born in Baden, and the children were all born in Missouri. In fact this entry has been shown to be a mistake; the family was named Hessenberger and originated in Pennsylvania.
  4. Also in the 1870 Census in Hensley, Champaign County, IL was a Peter Heckenbach age 20 who gave his birthplace as Sweden.
  5. There was a Jacob Heckenbach living in Savannah, GA. He was a deck-hand on ships in Savannah harbor, becoming captain. He was married with two children, no details known, but he also set up household with a black woman named Georgia Anna Dixon, and had several more children marked as mulatto.They all bore the last name Dixon. Jacob was born somewhere in Germany about 1865 and naturalized as a US citizen in 1896. He is well documented in city directories and the like. He died Oct 12 1944.
  6. There were Louis and Daniel Heckenbach in the 1900 US Census in Hazleton City, PA, but the writing is unclear
  7. 1910 Richard Heckenbach, waiter, age 35 in Manhattan Borough, NY.  
  8. In the 1920 census in Hartford CT is a record for Matthew and Christina Heckenbach. They were ages 61 and 56 and were listed as being from Bavaria. Then a 1922 Ellis Island record shows Joseph and Christine Heckenbach ages 63 and 59 were returning from Germany to their home in Hartford. 
  9. Karl Heckenbach migrated from Linz to New York City. No known descendents. The 1930 and 1940 Census show them, Carl Peter Heckenbach born 1893, with a wife Kate or Katherina, born 1900, living at 56 E 87th Ave, NYC. Karl was an apartment superintendant, and had become a US citizen in 1927 in Pennsylvania. He was from the Heckenbach family in Linz. He made two other trips.
  10. Hermann Johann Heckenbach, born in 1939 in Wittlich, Germany, arrived in the US in 1957 and was married in Oklahoma in 1958.
  11. I am familiar with three other, as yet unrelated, Heckenbachs who have moved from Germany to the US in more recent years. I am respecting their privacy.

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This Page was created May 5 1999, and last updated October 21, 2016