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Our 2,744 members have registered
2,397 study surnames with us
and a further 6,089 variant names.

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About the study

My name is Jan Cooper and my maiden name was GREATHEAD.  I did not like this a school as I was called 'bighead' children can be so cruel.  However now I am very proud to be associated with the name.  The picture above was painted by my paternal grandfather and seems an appropriate one for a Greathead site.
My mother died three years after my father.  Both were effectively only children, Dad's older brother died when he was 17 and my father 12.   So I grew up 'not doing or understanding extended families.'   Imagine my surprise when I found photographs amongst my parents' belongings with phrases like Uncle Henry, Aunt Lizzie on the back.   Just who were these people?   Later I found a picture of a grave stone, just who takes official pictures of a grave, and finally a picture of the vicar who, according to the writing on the back apparently may have married my great grandparents?   I had to find out more.  Like most people it took me some time to find out how to start my research properly and by then I had amassed a huge database of Greatheads, very few seemed to be related to me.  One visit to a Family History Fair in 1997 and a chat to a lovely 'GOON' convinced me to turn my database into a one-named study.  This will include eventually everyone who enjoyed the name by birth, adoption, marriage or by choice, both living and dead, wherever they live or lived in the world.  I have organised a Greathead reunion meetings in London on 30 April 2011 and 14 June 2014 and helped organise another for my particular branch in Hartlepool on 13 August 2011

Variant names

The information in my study covers all occurrences of the surname GREATHEAD worldwide, as opposed to a particular pedigree.  It also contains the variants GREATHEED, GRATEHEAD, GREATHED, GREETHEAD, GRETHED and GREATED with one small instance of GRATEHEAD.  Although if you go back far enough an addition E can be added to most variants.  I follow families as far as sensible, as often this allows me to meet living relatives who do hold data, certificates, family bibles and photographs.  The name appears sometimes as a middle name and in most cases can be traced back to a Greathead lady marrying out of the name.  I have discovered several families who have changed their name from Greathead to Grey, another to Montgomery but on official records they still sometimes appear as Greathead.  Just recently I discovered someone who changed their name to Greatorex.  All these can make life more interesting and be quite confusing!!!

Name origin

The name Greathead appears in London and Whitby, in the 14th and 15th Century.  It seems to mean just that; someone with a remarkably large head, in the real or perhaps colloquial sense, or maybe they enjoy rather a large ego.  I like to think maybe the large head contains brains used to achieve whatever we choose to do.  The name is believed to have a single source somewhere in the North of England but this has not yet been definitively proved, unless you hold that vital piece of the jigsaw.  I believe each the variants do relate to one definite area or class of person and may have come about through dialect, brothers falling out, bullying or personal preference.  I have set up a DNA Project to help maybe resolve this issue

Historical occurrences of the name

We have the usual mix of miners, farmers, sailors, adventurers, craftsmen, religious leaders, tradesman, at least one transportee and the name has been associated with at least two great engineers.
The oldest known Freemason - Matthew
One of the brave 1820 South African settlers sailing to a new Country and a new life- James Henry I
The inventor of the first self righting lifeboat - Henry (Francis)
The inventor of the Greathead Shield, a wonderful tunnelling tool and other engineering inventions - James Henry III
Cheeky workhouse boy - James Frederick Greethead also known as Leotard Bosco (Music Hall owner, Legerdemain which I believe to mean a skill to deceive or conjure trick with the hands, trickery and a ventriloquist

Name frequency

Based on the United Kingdom census returns there were 861 with the surname Greathead resident in the UK in 1911, 636 in 1901, 579 in 1891, 498 in 1881, 470 in 1871, 495 in 1861, 410 in 1851 and 437 in 1841.
The name now appears mainly in Durham, Yorkshire and to a lesser extent Warwickshire.  Many Greathead's still reside in Durham and Yorkshire

Distribution of the name

The major numbers of Greatheads in 1881 can be found in Durham (25%), Yorkshire (20%) and Warwickshire (11%).  A similar trend exists in both 1901 and 2001. I am fairly convinced but cannot prove yet, that the seat of our GREATHEAD name is in the Hauxwell and Hipswell area of Yorkshire.  But if you can help me prove or disproof this theory I would love to hear from you
Two Greathead gatherings have been held meeting in front of the statue of James Henry III outside the Bank Underground station.  Greatheads from four countries attended the June 2014 meeting


I have details of most (you can never say all) Greathead entries in the GRO indexes for England, Wales and overseas and have hopefully collected those of the variants, up to as current a date as possible.  Occasional visits to LMA always poduce more.  I have the New Zealand birth, marriage and death index information up to 1997.  I have copies of the enumeration sheets for 1911, 1901, 1891, 1881, 1871, 1861, 1851 and 1841 UK census, 1870 through to 1940 US census and 1911 Canadian census.

I have many birth, death and marriage certificates.

I have collected copies of all the PCC wills that I can locate in TNA.  The largest one I have is 63 pages long.  I have created a spreadsheet of the entries in the index of wills after 1858 at First Avenue, and am collecting copies of them where possible, since they are now £10 each I cannot afford them.  If you have one, please do share

I have a multitude of spreadsheets with data collected from all sorts of sources, many primary

I am very interested in my Greatheads as people and try to find out as much about them and where they lived as possible, see my other information pages on my website

I would be very pleased to help anyone with an interest in the Greathead family seeking information on their ancestors and would also be delighted to receive information, photographs, certificates etc. that might assist me in my quest to help grow the Greathead family tree and find that elusive first Ancestor.  I am pretty sure he was NOT called Adam!!


Finally I set up a DNA project Greathead DNA Project.  It is in the initial stages and I do urge you to take part in this exciting project.  Come on gentlemen.