Sunday, November 4, 2012

Family Coats of Arms

 Do you have an avid genealogist in your family? Are you thinking of a suitable Christmas present? Then do not be misled by advertising for Family Coats of Arms – these are a waste of money.
Just before Christmas is a time you are likely to come across numerous advertisements for Coasts of Arms or family trees. Most of these are fictional.
Coats of arms are part of heraldry - the study of creating, granting, and blazoning arms and ruling on questions of rank or protocol. The College of Arms, founded by King Richard III in 1485, is the official repository of the coats of arms and pedigrees of English, Welsh, Northern Irish and Commonwealth families and their descendants. (see
According to the College ‘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. Coats of arms belong to individuals. 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.’
Any Irish person or anyone of Irish descent (with some restrictions) or any Irish corporation and a few other organizations in Ireland may apply for a coat of arms, as explained at However, nobody is authorized to use or to display an Irish coat of arms without having received written permission from the Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland. If you don't have written permission (called a grant of arms), it isn't your coat of arms! It certainly is not your family's coat of arms either. Basically there is no such thing as a family coat of arms.
Coats of arms were designed for use in battle. If you can imagine wearing a full suit of armour, complete with a helmet with tiny eye slits for vision, the combatants had a difficult time differentiating friend from foe. As a visual aid, the knights and a few other combatants started wearing brightly painted designs on their shields and elsewhere, designs that were known to their fellow combatants. The intent was to help their fellow combatants distinguish friends from foe. The brightly coloured insignia was used on shields, on clothing, and on horse dressings.
If the knight had a close relative in battle as a combatant, such as his son, a brother, a nephew, or other relative, that relative never wore the same insignia as the first knight. In battle, sons never wore the same insignia as their fathers. Each had his own insignia and colours.
The only time that the same coat of arms can be used by more than one person is when the eldest is dead. At that point, the direct heir (typically his oldest son) can petition for the right to bear the same arms that were used by the deceased.
In the case of multiple sons, or when the father was still alive, all the sons could use SIMILAR coats of arms as their father but always added their own variations to the design. Each son created his own variations. These variations are called "cadency" and the son's insignia is referred to as "cadet coat of arms." When the father died, the oldest son removed his personal cadency, reverting the coat of arms back to his father's original design. The other sons kept their cadet coat of arms; they never used the father's original design.
A coat of arms is similar to an individual's signature and was used as seals on official documents.
Another requirement has been in effect since the 15th century and still applies today: the person who wishes to display a coat of arms must first register the design in a central clearinghouse and obtain permission to display it. Registration was required in the 15th century, and it is still expected today. If you are displaying a coat of arms without written permission, you are guilty of an impolite form of forgery. In the U.S., you won't get arrested for doing so because the U.S. has no laws concerning display of forged coats of arms. Such laws do exist on the books in England and in many other countries, although they are ancient laws and are rarely enforced.
For coats of arms granted in Scotland, visit the Court of the Lord Lyon (
Canada has its own heraldic office, the Canadian Heraldic Authority (, operating under authority of the Governor General of Canada. The rules for applying for a coat of arms are slightly different in Canada. Contact the Canadian Heraldic Authority for details.

You may also like to check out:
· Genealogy Hoaxes, Fake Coat-of-Arms and Scams:
· Cyndi's List: Myths, Hoaxes & Scams » Common Genealogical Myths » Myth: Family crest or coat of arms:
· The Society of Genealogists (in England): The right to arms:
· Bagnall Village:
· A Panorama-style investigation into bucket-shop heraldry:
· If you would like to obtain a legitimate coat of arms, a good start is to read the article by Halvor Moorshead at Halvor did obtain a valid grant of arms from the Canadian government.

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