Coat of Arms/Heraldry

In the earliest days, coats of arms were granted to military men and close advisors to the king. Later on MPs, lawyers and administrators were awarded arms and titles.

As the golden periods of English history approached in the 18th and 19th century, the attitude to arms had changed. Those who didn’t have a coat of arms made it their business to get one.

  • Church officials
    • Archbishops
    • Bishops
    • Cardinals
  • Knights
  • Landed gentry (social class of landowners who earned a living through rental income, or had a country estate)
  • Military (general, admiral, captain, colonel) if they distinguished themselves for bravery or won important battle of historical significance
  • Nobles (dukes, marquis, earls, viscount barons)
  • Royalty (kings, queens, princesses, princess) [11]

Many of the knights may not have been of fighting age, but held land and controlled the peasantry. They were the main providers of tax, and it was they who provided the soldiers for the king’s armies. Their descendants still own considerable property in England, as do many members of the old aristocracy.

The military, advisors, MPs, etc. were joined by businessmen and members of professions like doctors, and because the large industrial cities had become very important, mayors of boroughs were added to the list.

It was only within the last 100 years or so that a coat of arms was a cool thing to buy, display, and learn about if your ancestors owned one.

Technically, there are slight differences between a family crest and a coat of arms. Coats of Arms is the original designation and term and family crest later become a misnomer (designation). Over time, these two terms are used interchangeably to describe the same thing.

However, there is an informal difference with these two terms is that the word crest refers to what is displayed on top of the helmet while a coat of arms refers to the shield.

COADB.com and many sites that discuss the family crest and coats of arms choose to use the terms interchangeably in content because that’s how many people know and will search for the term.

When heraldry first developed in Europe during the Middle Ages, arms belonged to individuals and not families or surnames.

Heraldry was used in medieval tournaments of the 12th and 13th centuries AD. These tournaments were mock battles whereupon knights practiced their skill and training for war. By around 1300 AD and beyond, the tournaments became more about social standing and fashion. Events included jousting and melees. A knight would depict his arms on a tunic or surcoat worn over his armor. During this time, clothing fashion became influenced by heraldry.

Every knight and or lord would have their coat of arms or a badge which represented them sewn, painted or embroidered on their clothing, pavilions and personal property. Even their hounds’ collars would have their arms portrayed on them.

By the 1500s, coats of arms became associated with nobility, aristocracy, and landed gentry.

her·ald·ry from Old French “hiraudie”.

Heraldry is the system by which coats of arms and other armorial bearings are devised, described, and regulated.

Heraldry is both a science and an art that deals with the use, display, and regulation of hereditary symbols employed to distinguish individuals, armies, institutions, and corporations. Those symbols, which originated as identification devices on flags and shields, are called armorial bearings.

Coats of arms were developed as a means of distinguishing oneself on the battlefield during medieval times. They were used so a person could tell the difference between friend and foe. This was often necessary when men were covered in chain mail or armor, making them hard to identify.

When coats of arms were developed and adopted by society, most people in Europe were illiterate. Therefore, bold designs were much easier to recognize.

Men would paint or embroider their shields and tunics with symbols such as eagles, lions, crosses, roses, etc.

The average foot soldier’s ability to know what was happening around him was limited to who, and or what he could see in front of him, and to either side. In the melee of fog and battle, it was easy to become disoriented and confused. History is full of stories of friends and allies turning on each other by mistake, as their personal equipment looked exactly like those they opposed.

In later times, knights would attach symbols to the top of great helms that they wore during tournaments (mainly). These symbols would eventually become known as crests[11] [12]

Family Crest

No, you do not have to be a professional or an expert to understand a family crest or coats of arms. Learning, researching and understanding a family crest or coats of arms is a fun part of genealogy and learning about medieval times in history and how they distinguished themselves from one another with art and symbols. Once you find your specific family crest, it’s fun to learn about all the various elements to know what your family once stood for.

From the French word blason, meaning “shield”, a blazon is the written technical description of what a coat of arms looks like.

The blazon describes or depicts the armorial bearings in the correct heraldic manner so the reader or artist can reconstruct the appropriate image.

The word blazon can also refer to the specialized language in which it is written.

Technically, there is no difference between a family crest and a coat of arms. However, there is an informal difference with the crest referring to what is displayed on top of the helmet while a coat of arms refers to the shield.

COADB.com and many sites that discuss the family crest and coats of arms choose to use the terms interchangeably in content because that’s how many people know and will search for the term.

The term family crest is interchangeable with the term a coat of arms.

Family Research

A person can only research as far back in time as accurately as the records that are available. Some people will be luckier than others on how far back they can research based on available church and government records. It’s an unfortunate reality that over time, records may have been destroyed by natural and unnatural forces that make it impossible to research accurately deep into the history of human events.

Parish record keeping for baptisms, marriages and deaths started in the late 1500s and was mandated throughout Europe during the 1600s. Parish records were so well-kept and maintained that they were deemed suitable for official government use. [20]

If you have royal or famous ancestry, you may be able to research as far back as official records allow but for a more common person, you may be limited to only 300-500 years of reliable historical records.

Like the similarities between the coat of arms and the family crest, we often see the terms genealogy and family research used interchangeably. Both genealogy and family research involves seeking information about a person’s ancestors and family lineage.

However, family research goes beyond ancestry and lineages by digging into the lives of our ancestors at a more superficial level to help us understand more about their everyday lives and who they actually were.

  • Hobbies, personal interests, etc.
  • Occupations, religion, politics
  • Stories, legends
  • Where and how did they live

Genealogy

Resources don’t agree on the exact number of surnames that exist in the world and with good reason. Some surnames have died off as lines have stopped and other names have been created but have yet to be documented in official records.

However, there the US 2010 Census says there is about 6.3 million recorded surnames, with an estimated over 12.4 million all over the world. [8]

There are over 4,000 surnames in our database and we are always adding new surnames and content.

There are several different types of surnames, the five most common of which are as follows:

  1. Characteristic – Surnames based on a person’s physical appearance (ex. tall or short, hair color, and complexion) or based on certain personality traits that one displayed (ex. bold, cunning).
    Examples include: Little, Black, Short, and Swift.
  2. Habitational – Surnames based on the town or village a person was born in or worked on.
    Examples include: Hamilton, Sutton, Burton, Bedford, and Hampshire.
  3. Occupational – Surnames based on the job the person performed.
    Examples include: Wheeler, Cartwright, Butcher, Brewer, Baker, Dyer, Taylor, Glover, and Weaver.
  4. Patronymic – Surnames that have been passed down by one’s father or mother or ancestors in general.
    Examples include: Johnson, Benson, Davidson and Peterson.
  5. Topographic – Surnames based on certain geographic features of the area in which a person was born or worked.
    Examples include: Brooks, Bridges, Bush, Hill, Woodruff, and Forest. [23]

Surnames, as we know them today, have not always existed and, even today, are not used in all cultures.

In the early years of the Middle Ages most people within Europe lived in small farming communities and everyone knew their neighbors so there was little need for last names (surnames). But as the population and towns grew, there became a need to be able to tell two people with the same first name apart.

  1. The birth of surnames was a spontaneous phenomenon throughout Europe, starting in Britain and falls outside the legislative or administrative framework.
  2. The illiteracy of the time did not allow a well-established spelling for surnames.
  3. These nicknames were individual. Each member of your family could have a different name or multiple names in their lifetime.
  4. Nobody chose their own name: these were given by neighbors and thirds, which associated them with some form of irony!

One of the forces that worked to stabilize the use of surnames was taxation. The taxing authority (king, noble, city council, local parish church for tithes) needed clear records to keep up with who had paid, and even more importantly, not paid their taxes. The Doomsday Book started by William the Conqueror was the first such example. This a remarkable feat of organization as the affair of collecting and writing down the names and property for taxation lasted just a year. It was started in 1185 and completed in 1186.

It was this effort which made communities and individuals choose what we loosely in the West call a full name i.e., ‘John Thatcher’ of Shrewsbury. The earliest non-noble names were usually in some form of patronymic form such as Richard John’s Son; Richard Johnson. In stable societies which did not migrate from one location to the next, this was a workable solution.

In only a few societies at the time, and usually to only the very wealthy did women carry a surname.

The Black Plague (1347 to 1351) wrecked the medieval world with an estimated 75 to 200 million deaths or 60% of Europe’s population. This major event caused massive migrations within Europe as people fled the dying cities. It also created a massive labor shortage, which meant serfs who had previously been tied to their land, were now able to move about and command wages for their work. These migrations and events brought about the common usage of a surname.

A person can only research as far back in time as accurately as the records that are available. Some people will be luckier than others on how far back they can research based on available church and government records. It’s an unfortunate reality that over time, records may have been destroyed by natural and unnatural forces that make it impossible to research accurately deep into the history of human events.

Parish record keeping for baptisms, marriages and deaths started in the late 1500s and was mandated throughout Europe during the 1600s. Parish records were so well-kept and maintained that they were deemed suitable for official government use.

If you have royal or famous ancestry, you may be able to research as far back as official records allow but for a more common person, you may be limited to only 300-500 years of reliable historical records.

Coadb.com does offer a Genealogy Research Report service where we research and compile our findings into a presentable format. Check out our Genealogy Research Report page to check out what we have to offer.

  • Ancestral Tree
  • Ancestry chart
  • Ancestry or Genealogy Fan Chart
  • Genealogical Tree
  • Genealogy chart
  • Pedigree chart

A family tree is a diagram that shows the relationship between people in several generations of a family.

Family trees are often presented with the oldest generations at the top and the newer generations at the bottom.

Many family tree designs incorporate the image or graphic of a real tree that is narrow at the top and grows wider towards the ground. The branches of a tree represent the many branches of a family.

ge·ne·al·o·gy from Latin “genealogia”.

Genealogy is the study of family ancestral lines, lineages and history.

A genealogist is a person that establishes kinship and pedigrees using a range of techniques including interviews, historical records located online and at local archive centers, genetic analysis (DNA), heraldry, art, and other records to obtain information about a family. Pedigrees may be written as narratives but are more often displayed in charts.

Peers and Peerage

The prime minister will nominate a person to be a life peer. However, they are only officially appointed by the Crown. [3] [19]

Being of higher social status, peers had numerous privileges and powers.

  1. Access to the Sovereign to advise him or her on matters of state
  2. Eligible to be appointed (as opposed to being elected) to the House of Lords also known as the upper chamber of parliament
  3. Freedom from arrest in civil cases
  4. Trial by jury of other members of the peers (for some crimes).

These privileges still exist although occasions of its exercise have now diminished into obscurity.

In the United Kingdom, life peers are appointed members of the peerage whose titles cannot be inherited, in contrast to hereditary peers. In modern times, life peerages, always created at the rank of baron, are created under the Life Peerages Act 1958 and entitle the holders to seats in the House of Lords, presuming they meet qualifications such as age and citizenship. The legitimate children of a life peer are entitled to style themselves with the prefix “The Honorable”, although they cannot inherit the peerage itself.

A peerage is a legal system historically comprising hereditary titles in various countries, comprising various noble ranks.

A peer of the realm is someone who holds one (or more) of five possible titles (duke, marquess, earl, viscount, and baron). These titles are inherited from a direct ancestor or bestowed upon him by the monarch.

Tracing its origins to feudal times, peers were vassals of the monarch (servants who swore an oath of loyalty in exchange for protection or a fief – a bequest of land or money). These barons were periodically summoned to the Counsel or Parliament, forming the origins of the House of Lords.

Historically the peerage formed a tightly knit group of powerful nobles, inter-related through blood and marriage in successive generations, and highly protective of their lands and rights. Their fortunes rose and fell according to the stability of the kingdom and their favor with the Sovereign.

The Tudors, for example, executed, imprisoned or suppressed almost every nobleman who had any Plantagenet blood in his veins, and instead created a new aristocracy from the lesser branches of old families, and from the gentry and knightly classes. Subsequent changes made by the royal houses of Stuart, Hanover and Windsor have similarly brought new blood and new titles to the peerage. The ranks of the peerage were further enlarged by the passing of the Life Peerages Act of 1958.”

Membership was once an entitlement of all hereditary peers, other than those in the peerage of Ireland, but under the House of Lords Act 1999, the right to membership was restricted to 92 hereditary peers. [3]