Finding your exact family crest can be an exciting process of discovering your family history and heritage. With some research and persistence, it is possible to locate the specific coat of arms associated with your family name.
Understand What a Family Crest Is
A family crest, also known as a coat of arms, is a design belonging to a particular family. Family crests originated in medieval Europe as a way to identify knights in armor. However, they are not limited to royal families. While less common, family crests can be found for many ordinary families as well.
A family crest consists of a shield with a distinctive design. The shield is accompanied by additional elements such as a motto, helmet, crown, and mantling. The colors and symbols used in a crest have special meanings. For instance, a lion often signifies bravery, while a tree represents life and growth.
Historically, family crests were passed down through the male line of a family. Women traditionally adopted their husband’s crest upon marriage. Today, family crests are viewed as belonging to anyone descended from the original armiger (the person first awarded the crest).
Trace Your Family History
To find your family crest, you will need to research your family history and genealogy. Gather as much information as you can by talking to relatives and searching public records such as census data and birth/marriage/death certificates.
Some key facts you will want to establish are:
- The origins and meaning of your surname
- Alternative spellings or versions of your surname through history
- Where your family lived going back several generations
Online genealogy services like Ancestry.com allow you to search their databases for records relating to your ancestors. Look for consistent clues pointing to a geographical location or family line.
Check Heraldic Authority Registers
Once you have traced your surname to its origins, you can begin searching registers of coats of arms. These official records identify armigers and blazon the correct crest for each family.
The primary heraldic authorities include:
- College of Arms (England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Commonwealth)
- Court of the Lord Lyon (Scotland)
- Office of the Chief Herald of Ireland / Genealogical Office (Republic of Ireland)
- Canadian Heraldic Authority (Canada)
Most heraldic authorities make their registers available through online databases or published armorials. Look for an exact match between your surname and an existing coat of arms.
Seek Guidance From Heraldry Experts
If you cannot find a match in the heraldic registers, do not give up hope. Many ancient coats of arms are not officially documented. You may need to consult a professional genealogist or heraldry expert for assistance.
Heraldry societies like the American College of Heraldry can help research unregistered family crests. Their access to archives and historical references may uncover evidence of your family’s coat of arms.
When working with an expert, provide all the family history documentation you have collected. Any clues, such as a family seal or motto passed down through generations, could help link you to a coat of arms.
Commission New Family Arms
If your research determines that no historical coat of arms exists for your surname, you have the option to commission new family arms. Heraldic authorities and artists can design and register a unique crest just for you.
When creating a new coat of arms, you may want to incorporate symbols reflecting your family’s history. Elements like colors, animals, flowers, and mottos carry meaning and make the arms special to your lineage.
Newly granted coats of arms receive official recognition and protection under heraldic law. Going through the proper channels avoids inaccurate or unapproved arms.
Purchase Your Crest
Once you have identified the correct coat of arms for your family name, you will want to acquire a high-quality copy. Heraldic societies and colleges of arms can provide authoritative representations of crests.
There are many options for displaying your family crest:
- Framed painting or embroidery
- Heraldic flag or banner
- Cufflinks, rings, tie pins
- Bookplates and stationery
- Ceramic plates, mugs, and glassware
Keep in mind that while there are no laws restricting who can buy or display family crests, only direct descendants should inherit and pass down arms.
Discovering your family crest provides a meaningful connection to your ancestors and heritage. With some diligent research and help from heraldry experts, you can locate the correct coat of arms associated with your surname. Once found, your family arms can be incorporated into displays and keepsakes passed down through generations.
Tracing your family crest is an exciting journey of self-discovery. The coat of arms that represents your history is out there waiting to be found.