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How To Trace Your Coat Of Arms

How To Trace Your Coat Of Arms

The world of heraldry is full of wonder and excitement. Tracing your families coat of arms will give you an insight into your family history by providing a most valuable source of information, details and stories.

Step 1: What is a coat of Arms?

In medieval times Coats of Arms were used as a form of identification by Knights going to battle, like an early form of a dog tag. The Aristocratic families would use Coats of Arms to show class and social status.
A coat of arms is an arrangement of Devices, such as animals or geometric shapes placed on a Shield. The background to the Shield is called the Field. The Field can be a mix of the 7 basic colours or Tinctures in Heraldry. These are Gold/Yellow, Silver/White, Blue, Red, Purple, Black and Green. The Field can also be a divided into sections and this is called the Division of the Field of which there are many. The most common division are: party per fess, party per pale, Party per bend, party per bend sinister, party per saltire party per cross, party per chevron, party per pall. And the Field can sometimes a Charge. This is an image such as Fleur de Lis or some such. The Shield can also include a variety of elements like Supporters, a Helmet, Compartment, a Crest and Motto. This is called Full Achievement of Arms. This is what we commonly refer to as a Coat of Arms, when in fact a coat is the Shield and the Devices with in that.
There are no steadfast meanings behind the Devices, Tinctures and other images on a Coat of Arms. The devices on a Coat of Arms are sometimes very personal and would have been placed there for a reason. Every coat of arms has a history and a story to tell. Find this and you will start to unravel your family's history.

Step 2: Where to start

Start with your family. Ask an elder family they should know if your family has a Coat of Arms. Basically if your family has a Coat of Arms the chances are you know about it! It will have been in your family for many years or generations and passed along the male line. You may find it on silverware, crockery or a family heirloom.

Step 3: What next

If you are serious about tracing your family crest your first port of call would be the College of Arms in London. The College of Arms is one of the few remaining heraldic authorities in the UK and the Commonwealth.

Step 4: The Search

The College of Arms will advise you as to whether the college is able to assist you. If the college can help, you will be assigned an officer of arms, a Herald, who will conduct your research. He will examine your coat of arms, search the records and the registers of pedigrees, to try and locate yours. He can try and find the history and meaning behind the Coat of Arms and this will help in your quest to find your family history. He may uncover hidden secrets and meanings...

Step 5: If you don't have a family crest

Worry not if you don't your don't have a coat of arms.
There are many organisations that can offer to design one for you. But you can certainly do this yourself. Creating a Coat of Arms for your family is easy and fun, and who knows, might even lead to you being mistaken for nobility.