Ancestor Searching Newsletter, Volume 3, # 12

Coat of Arms: Heraldry is the medieval art and science that deals with the creation, use, and recognition of visual displays that identify an individual person, guild, town, office or other entity. This was typically done through much of the Middle Ages using a painted shield which consisted of a unique arrangement of division lines, and objects known as "charges". Early in the Medieval period, this "coat of arms" was unique to an individual, only becoming associated with a family towards the end of the Renaissance.

The oldest son would often inherit his family's coat of arms without any changes but the younger brothers would add symbols to identify themselves. The symbol a younger son added was usually a smaller picture placed in the middle of the shield. When a woman married, the coat of arms of her family was often added to her husband's arms. Many times the coat of arms were quartered, or divided into different parts.

In modern day times, heraldry is basically governed by the rules set by the heralds of the College of Arms with whom anyone may apply. Provided the applicant is a "worthy person" and has no criminal record, a coat of arms will be rarely refused. However, they charge fees for their services. Many coats of arms have belonged to the same family, being handed down from father to son for generations. Royalty were the first to have heraldic coats of arms. There is some controversy in the genealogy world about authenticity of coat of arms because in olden times they were presented to individuals, and as previously mentioned, passed down through the generations. So it is important to find a historically correct coat of arms. No matter what the final product is, one thing is clear for many researchers – It's always exciting for family members to see the coat of arms or family crest for their family name. In modern times, coat of arms are still used as a means of identification by many companies, clubs, organizations and town and County Councils. Also, there are reputable companies who will search your last name and find the coat of arms for your surname and may even offer a wide variety of interesting products with a family coat of arms on them.

There are numerous online web sites that either provide information or assistance in researching a coat of arms. Some likely sites to look at, for example, are Traceit.com, About.com, Your Irish Roots and AAG International Research. These are by no means the only sites but a sampling of what may be found on the Internet that may be useful to researchers.

The following classifications are the most generally valid categories in use from the past and today.

  • Succession - These are arms that are taken up by those who inherit certain estates by bequest, entail, or donation.
  • Community - These are arms that are associated with bishoprics, cities, universities, academies, societies, guilds and corporate bodies.  Many of these go back to a very early period.
  • Dominion (or Sovereignty) - These are the arms of the kings or sovereigns of the territories they govern, which are also regarded as the arms of the State. Thus the Lions of England and the Russian Eagle are the arms of the Kings of England and the Emperors of Russia, and cannot be altered by a change of dynasty.  In America several states have official arms of Dominion that derive from the earlier old rulers of the colony, such as in Maryland which bears the arms of Cecililus Calvert, second Lord Baltimore, who was the proprietor of the colony.
  • Pretension - These are arms of kingdoms, provinces, or territories to which a prince or lord has some claim, and which he adds to his own, though the kingdoms or territories are governed by a foreign king or lord: thus the Kings of England for many ages quartered the arms of France in their escutcheon as the descendants of Edward III., who claimed that kingdom, in right of his mother, a French princess.  Nearly all early sovereigns bore arms of this type as they constantly disputed territories.
  • Concession - These are arms granted by sovereigns as the reward of virtue, valor, or extraordinary service and deeds. All arms granted to subjects were originally conceded by the Sovereign.
  • Family (or paternal arms) - These arms as such are hereditary and belong to one particular family, which none others have a right to assume, nor can they do so without rendering themselves guilty of a breach of the laws of honor punishable by the Earl Marshal and the Kings at Arms. The assumption of arms has however become so common that little notice is taken of it at the present time.  These types of arms sometimes are modified over time by various family members.
  • Alliance - These are arms gained by marriage.
  • Patronage - These arms are of the type the lesser gentry bore as subjects to governors of provinces, lords of manors or feudal lords.  They usually derive from the coat of arms of the lord and indicate a level of dependence on such, as well as the connection to that manor.
  • Office - These are arms born by those holding certain offices such as the King of Arms in England or the Butlers of Ireland, ancestors of the Dukes of Ormond.

In conclusion . . .

Avitoe glorioe memor ~ Mindful of ancestral glory

Genealogy Workshop

Fact: There is no such thing as a ‘coat of arms for a surname'. Many people of the same surname will often be entitled to completely different coats of arms, and many of that surname will be entitled to no coat of arms. For any person to have a right to a coat of arms they must either have had it granted to them or be descended in the legitimate male line from a person to whom arms were granted or confirmed in the past.

Tip: It's been a popular misconception that the word ‘crest' describes a whole coat of arms or any heraldic device. It does not. A crest is a specific part of a full achievement of arms: the three-dimensional object placed on top of the helm.

Genealogy News

NBC is set to add the "Who Do You Think You Are?" Genealogy TV show to their schedule starting in April. The popular British television show has been exported to other countries with each country producing their own shows, featuring local television personalities and stories. The program will air on Mondays at 8 PM beginning April 20th. The American version will feature American celebrities, including Lisa Kudrow, Sarah Jessica Parker and Susan Sarandon, as they unearth their family trees. Quoting from Dick Eastman's Online Newsletter, "The series will examine a star's family tree . . . uncovering stories from the family's past . . . and weaving the story into the larger narrative of American history."

The first computer class offering for Footnote.com will be held in the Computer Training Center on Third floor of the Main Library on Tuesday, April 28th from 5:30 to 6:30 PM. Be sure to watch for it on the Class Training Schedule in April. Footnote has partnered with the National Archives to begin making available online the multitude of original documents from the Archives vast collection.