Heraldry. And what it might mean to you.

Is there such a thing as a family crest? No! And yes…

America is a country of immigrants. We have removed ourselves from every country and nations on Earth to live in The United States of America. It has long been a strength of the USA anyone can become anything they are willing to work and sacrifice for. It is also quietly one of the heartaches of the generations which came after those who have had to make hard decisions to immigrate or not. This has often meant making a clean break of family, traditions, and most importantly of a familial history.

Many of our citizens were once proud subjects of another country, or monarch; because our ancestors once swore allegiance to another, or had a history of service to same, should not be forgotten. Yet often times, this is exactly what has happened. People as a rule do not spontaneously appear on the world stage. Nor do their names just “happen to appear out of thin air.” In most instances there is a verifiable and documented history of where a name comes from, and as a rule people of fame or renown associated with that surname.

As noted historian and author David McCullough said, “How can we know who we are and where we are going if we don’t know anything about where we have come from and what we have been through, the courage shown, the costs paid, to be where we are?”
For those of European ancestry, heraldry is the touchstone, or the key to begin a search of familial history lost in the passages across the far oceans of the world. Finding an achievement in our archives which has been verified by several different historical references such as Burke’s Peerages, can be the needed bread crumb which can then lead you down corridors of knowledge and more importantly where and to whom your family came from.

My own surname of Lehman, like so many Americans of Germanic origins, came from Saxony. As a Saxon name it has traveled west with the Anglo-Saxon language and culture. Some of the earliest record of any variation of my surname are those of Reiner Leman which appears in the 1185 Knights Templar rolls and Ailric de la Leie which appears in the Nottinghamshire tax rolls from 1193. The tax rolls, were a series of census and tax records kept by the English Treasury by order of King John. These documents, the oldest dating back seven hundred years to the 12th century, are considered the oldest continuous set of records detailing English governance in the United Kingdom.

My own individual coat-of-arms and not the overused and badly applied “crest” are individualistic to myself and my family and my son who will inherit our coat of arms. I mention this because it is important you should know, our arms we present here have been researched. They are historical and documented arms. They belong to very specific people at very specific time periods. As a rule they do not belong to you by courtesy of you possessing the same surname.
However all of the warnings aside, coupled with personal investigation and research, knowing what coat-of-arms are historically associated with your surname can be a valued addition to your search for your history.

As another point of distinction, in the world of heraldry it is important to remember the basic terms associated with this most amazing blending of art, history and genealogical research:

Shield
– Is considered the physical defense knights once wore to protect themselves in battle.
Achievement
– Also known as the Coat-of-Arms. It is the painted symbols and elements associated with a person who has historically had arms associated with their name.
Helm
– This is the helmet or helm worn atop the shield. Different types of helms, and their placement on top of the shield can indicate their status, as a Squire, Knight or Noble.
Badge
– A design element usually taken from either the personal arms of the family or some element associated with that family, such as a sheaf of wheat or an animal like a Lion. It was a way of showing allegiance to a family as either an ally or someone who owed fealty to a powerful family. It was used in lieu of using a families full achievement.
Crest
– This is the design element which sits atop the helm, which in turn sits atop the shield, where the Coat-of-Arm or Achievement is painted. It is not a Coat-of-Arms. A Crest can also act as a badge for family members and retainers of a family bearing arms.

Referring to these simplest of heraldic terms should help you along your path towards understanding your history and your family.

It should also be said, purchasing a t-shirt or a coffee mug with your ancestors coat-of-arms is not an appropriation of arms or some form of historical identity theft. There are purists out there who will complain if the arms are not original to you or your immediate family they have no value. This is categorically wrong. It is indeed a wonderful way for you to show your love of your family history, noting your ancestors were found worthy enough, and in many cases valiant enough to have arms granted to them. You should be proud of who and where you came from. So by all means embrace your ancestor’s spirit. Proudly display their arms! And if at a later date you wish to pursue the creation of your own distinct family arms, you will have a fine example to base your own design on.

I wish you nothing but good fortune with your search for your family history!

John Lehman Esq.


The History of Heraldry

Heraldry is both a study of history and of war. What we think of as a family coat-of-arms was, in fact, used to tell the other man exactly who it was they faced across the killing ground. It started out as the Medieval way of identifying an individual on the battlefield or in the tournament lists. There was little or no difference between opposing armies, and their equipment or armor. 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, it is easy to become disorientated and confused. History is replete with stories of friends and allies turning on each other by mistake. The first attempt to provide identification of combatants on the battlefield was by the use of flags, banners, and standards, also used to signal troops and point them in the right direction.

One can imagine an older combat veteran giving advice to a younger warrior, “Look for the flag. If you get lost, go there. Someone will tell you what to do.”

Thus the study of flags known as Vexillology has been intertwined with the study and history of heraldry ever since. Flags and their ilk have always been associated with large groups, and it wasn’t until much later in the historical timeline that they became associated with individuals.

The ancient Greeks were one of the first cultures to embrace heraldry or war art. The heavily armed warriors known as hoplites took their name from the Greek word hoplon which means (tool or shield) and decorated their shields with the images of gods and goddesses, demons, or emblems of the city-state to which they owed allegiance. But these were often votive offerings and not an attempt to create an individual or group identity.

history of coat of arms
The archaeological record is full of highly decorated amphorae, drinking vessels and even mosaics showing Greek warriors fighting. But unless it is spelled out specifically, you can not point to an illustration and say, “Oh that is Achilles. I know because he has ____________ painted on his shield.

The soldiers of Rome built an empire beneath the stentorian gaze of the gold eagles of the legion. Romans used uniforms and shields painted in various colors to denote different army units and even went so far as to wear colored crests of horsehair on their helmets, (henceforth for this article referred to as a helm.) The Romans were the first Western culture to fully organize their warriors into soldiers. They created the first organizations and battlefield tactics that depended on successful communication among groups of soldiers. To that end they made use of standards, flags, and loud musical instruments such as the drum and an early brass instrument called a cornu or cornum. The Roman signals officer in charge of translating orders into music was called a cornicern.

As with most things, the passage of time and inertia killed the Roman Empire and with it, organized infantry combat. What remained was mounted warfare, a highly mobile and fluid form of combat. Being able to identify friend from foe came once more into importance as Western rebuilt itself from the ashes of the Roman empire. Simple, easy to see colors on shield or similarly colored cloak became standard. During the Middle Ages the concept of nobles and multi-tiered societies emerged and the heraldry we know today was born.

The 12th century was a tumultuous time in Europe. The Viking raids on France, Britain, Wales and Ireland had drawn to, a close. William the Conqueror had died and his grandchildren had instituted a deep and abiding civil war. The necessity for accurate identification on the field of battle became paramount. It is interesting to note that the first widely accepted coats of arms are those of Geoffrey Plantagenet, Count of Anjou and – by conquest – Duke of Normandy. This is not to say that there weren’t other coats of arms in use at this time, circa 1151. Only in so much as his arms have been ones which have survived to this day. They can be found on an enameled funerary effigy, which covered the top of his tomb. They are located at the Museum of Archaeology and History in Le Mans, France. “is a field of blue (Azure) with six golden lions standing on their hind legs (Rampant) in descending order of 3, 2, 1.” The arms were granted to Geoffrey by his father-in-law Henry I of England shortly after he had conquered Normandy.

coat of arms shield
This coat-of-arms was inherited by Geoffrey’s son Henry who would later become King Henry II, after his succession to his father’s position as the Count of Anjou and Duke of Normandy and then his grandfather’s position as the King of England in 1151. These arms have formed the basis for the Arms of England ever since.

By the time of the 14th century, what we would today recognize as heraldry had become a mature art form. The rules regarding who could carry arms and who could not were codified. The use of colors was established and the metals allowed were limited to only gold and silver. As with most general rules in art, there were exceptions; German heralds used the color brown and the metal copper in their art.

For those who are trained to read and understand the language of Blazon, each device tells a story. In the seminal work by Arthur Charles Fox-Davies’ Complete Guide to Heraldry, he described heraldry as, “The shorthand of history.”

Blazon is the name of the language used to describe a coat-of-arms. The process is called Emblazoning. It follows a simple formula: First the field or color of the shield is described.
Then the objects within the shield described along with their color.

Emblazoning can be daunting at first. It uses a language based on the combination of Medieval French, Old English and written in Middle English.

Coats of Arms Explained

In heraldry, a coat-of-arms, is known as a shield-at-arms. The can be no coat-of-arms, without the shield. The shield itself is called an Escutcheon, and heraldic items or Devices are displayed upon it. It has many parts and each part has its own name:

parts of the shield of arms
 

A-Chief B-Dexter

C-Sinister D-Base

E-Dexter Chief F-Middle Chief

G-Sinister Chief H-Honor Point

I-Fess Point J-Nombril Point

K-Dexter Point L-Sinister Base.

M-Middle Base* Which is rarely used.

 

Where an object is located on the shield is important. This specific placement, and how it is described or Emblazoned, determines the accuracy of a set of arms. Consequently, the Emblazonment of Arms is the most important feature. Any heraldic artist can read the description and use it as a guide to paint or craft a coat-of-arms for an individual or family. They don’t actually have to ‘see’ the arms, it can be crafted from the description alone.

A good design in heraldry is one that is clear, concise, and simple, although the vast array of symbols and images available can be overwhelming. It should be noted, a herald and a heraldic artist can help an Armiger, or person bearing arms, to design their individual coat-of-arms. It is also important to remember the original usage of heraldry, namely to facilitate recognition when faces were covered or obscured. Complicated arms and poor color choices seen from a distance can become blurry and hence unrecognizable.

To this end, the basic rules for colors or Tinctures were established based on a pallet of five colors, two metals and two basic fur patterns – although there are different versions of each of the furs used today.

coat of arms tinctures (colors)
Ermine is the winter coat of a type of weasel called a stoat, displayed as white with a black arrowhead shape with three black dots. Vair is the winter coat of the red squirrel, as seen as having blue-gray on top and white along the belly.

Gold is called Or. Silver is called Argent. These colors, and furs help to build the basic building blocks of heraldry. Once more it is important to note there are exceptions to these rules created by individual countries.

A heraldic term that is often popularly misused is Crest. A Crest is a part of a heraldic display and not the coat-of-arms itself. For ‘civilians’ or religious affiliations a Crest, usually consists of a medieval style helmet, properly called a Helm, which is positioned at the top of the shield itself. For those non-nobles who are not knights, it is customary to have the Helm turned to the left of the shield as you look at it. This indicates that, although the owner has the right to bear arms, he is not knighted and is not of noble rank. The person is known as an Esquire.

Atop the Helm is the actual Crest itself. It is normally a badge or mythical creature associated with the person whose arms are displayed. There are no set rules regarding this portion of the design. A good example is that of the unicorn found atop the Berkley coat-of arms.

berkeley coat of arms with crest
The next important element in a heraldic design is the motto. A motto is a sentiment or saying, usually written in one of three languages, English, Latin or French, which is usually found at the bottom of a coat-of-arms. The motto can also be an older form of a war cry or battle shout.

A good example of a motto can be found on the royal arms of England as painted by heraldic artist Graham Johnston over a hundred years ago:

The motto is French for literally “God and my right”, meaning that the king is “Rex Angliæ, Dei gratia”: King of England by the Grace of God.

The coat of arms motto
The United States Army uses as their official motto: “This I’ll Defend.” The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, an order of chivalry which dates back to the First Crusade, uses the famous crusader war cry, “Deus lo vult”. This translates from Latin to mean “God wills it”. Richard III, the hunchback of Shakespearean drama, used, “Loyaulte me lie” which translates from French as, “Loyalty Binds Me.”

The final element of design goes back once more to the Helm. Between the top of the Helm and where the actual crest starts is usually a roll of alternating colors representing cloth wrapped in a circular shape. This wreath is called a Torse. From the Torse, cloth flows down the back of the Helm. This design element is called Mantling. Originally this was a way to help protect the wearer of the Helm from glancing blows across the back of the neck. It also ameliorated the effects of sunlight. It has become an important element in the design of a coat-of-arms. It can bring balance to a design which might be out of ratio with itself because of artistic limitations. Usually made up of two alternating colors pulled from the design of the coat-of-arms, it is a way of emphasizing the design of the arms. A good heraldic artist can give the impression that the Mantling is actually waving in a breeze, as might happen when a knight rode his charger.

The coat of arms torse

(The full achievement of DS Baker by Prof. Ljubodrag Grugic of Pancevo, Serbia.)

Coats-of-arms found in books or on the Internet usually belong to someone. In a preliterate world, this was an individual’s signature, logo, and family history all rolled into one.

In Scotland today it is illegal to use any coat-of-arms you find, if you do not have the legal right to do so. The Lord Lyon Court of Arms addresses all issues regarding the unlawful use of, or appropriation of a coat-of-arms. This actually happened in 2008 when Donald Trump used an unregistered device/coat-of-arms to promote his Scottish golf course. After much legal wrangling and at some expense to Mr. Trump, following a long legal course of action which resulted in his submitting to proper procedures, he was granted arms by the Lord Lyon in 2012. It should be noted that Scotland is the only country that currently enforces its heraldic laws and can put transgressors in jail.

This point cannot be emphasized enough. Arms found on the internet might belong to your ancestors or to someone with a name similar to yours. It is not considered good form to take them as your own. On occasion a coat-of-arms may include a “quartering of arms, or co-joined arms.” In heraldic terms this would indicate the joining of two families. So it would a slight to two families.

It is a fine to collect arms and point to them out as belonging to a possible or confirmed ancestor. However it is wiser to take a design elements from an ancestor’s arms and create an entirely new and original set for yourself. In fact this is a time honored tradition of showing the world who you are, and from who you are descended. However, this will not be an official coat-of-arms unless you live in countries who have an active heraldic authority and successfully apply to their college of arms. (Feel free to check out an online coat of arms heraldry database like Coadb.com.) Great Britain, and her commonwealth countries use the College of Arms in England, with the exception of Canada who has established their own college, and governing body. The United States of America does not have a heraldic authority. It does however have several organizations who will ‘register’ your arms for a fee, along with a selection of artists who can help you design your very own personal coat-of-arms.

Please do not be put off by the unusual language or the seemingly strange rules. It is a way of deciphering a secret code openly displayed. Heraldry is the design principal for so many modern symbols, such as Shell Gas Stations, the National Hockey League, government organizations, and large corporations. Heraldry is very much alive and well. There are vibrant heraldic traditions in all of North America, South America and Europe going back centuries. The Canadian Heraldic Authority has been creating some of the more vibrant and original coats-of-arms for the better part of a decade. It is interesting since the fall of communism, the former eastern bloc countries have revived their heraldic traditions with an amazing amount of energy and enthusiasm. Some of the more dynamic coats-of-arms to be produced of late have come from countries such as Poland, Russia and Serbia.

george washington coat of arms

(Coat-of-arms of President George Washington.)

I hope you will take the time to explore this fascinating world where history, pageantry, and genealogy meet.
– John Lehman

* All images used were either granted permission by the family, artists or reside in the public domain. The images fall under the fair usage act.


Historical Timeline
of
Western European Surnames

This is an attempt to introduce the reader to the wonderful world of surnames, the study of which, is a fascinating glimpse into both human and societal evolution. With a goal towards being specific this article will stick primarily to Western European naming traditions and how those traditions have evolved largely due to large scale changes in those societies. Surnames are inexorably linked to history and as such, as western societies morphed and changed so did the need for a surname.

The Roman empire, was one of the first societies to use a surname or patronymic name (meaning a name derived from a male ancestor.) Several surnames from this time period still exist today, “Cornelius” being one such name. It was established in 485 BC, and can be seen as the foundation for hundreds of families in existence, such as the Barons of Cornielje of Holland who trace their ancestry back to the founder of the Cornelius clan. It should be noted patronymic naming practices of the Romans, all but died with the fall of the Roman empire. By the time of the fifth century AD almost all vestiges of the Westernmost portion of the Roman empire were now under the control of Germanic speaking peoples with segments of Eastern steppe tribes such as the Alan peoples of the Caucus region along with Hunnic tribes occupying large swathes of Gaul aka France. With Visigoth tribes migrating southwards and creating what would eventually become the first Christian kingdom of Spain. With the fall of the Roman Empire, this naming convention died or failed in most places and retracted to isolated communities in France, Italy and Romania.

In the latter half of the 5 century AD, Saxon tribesmen from what today would be south-eastern Germany, traveled north-west to the Baltic coastline and migrated to England. Today this is referred to as the Saxon invasion. The melding of the extant Celt-Roman culture and the Saxon Germanic language is the basis for the English language today. During this same time period, roughly from the 5th century AD to the 9th century AD southern and western area of the region north of Hadrian’s Wall, saw invasions by the Scoti tribesmen of Northern Ireland. Their occupation of the land and settlement there created what is recognized today as Scotland. Along with Norse invasions both Britain and continental Europe in the 7th through the 10th centuries AD gave rise to world and cultures we know today.

Names which became prominent in the 5th through the 11th centuries AD are very Norse/Germanic sounding to modern readers such as, “Hrolf, Gils, Eadjmund, Birnijir, and Agni.” It is only with the latter addition of the Normans who came in the latter half of the 11th century (1066 AD specifically.) did Britain begin to truly evolve linguistically to the region we see today.

In the last portion of the 11th century, England was ruled by Edward I or the “Confessor.” His designated heir was Harold Godwinson. (an interesting surname in of itself.) Who while sailing off the coast of France, floundered and almost drowned. The Duke of Normandy William, rescued Harold, and in the process, Harold swore allegiance, and fealty to the Duke of Normandy. Which meant the Duke was now his feudal lord. Upon the death of Edward the Confessor, Harold was to pass the crown to William Duke of Normandy. He did not. This medieval slighting of the practice of fealty was an inexcusable offense to William, and he subsequently invaded England in the fall of 1066 AD.

Harold Godwinson’s own brother Tostig and the Norwegian King Harald Hardrada also invaded the North of England in and around York at the same time. Harold managed to defeat his brother and the Norwegian King. He took a portion of his armies marched south to Hastings, and died in combat. (Legend says, he received an arrow in his eye.)

The resulting victory by the Normans resulted in what is arguably one of, if not the greatest change in the culture of England. What had been a Germanic sounding culture was soon to have a Norse-Latin feudal system overlaid on top of it. The Normans themselves were part of the Norse invasion of continental Europe. They had changed and adapted to local customs. Normans had converted to Christianity, their language had changed to from one of purely Norse words to one that was primarily medieval French with Norse words kept primarily in place names, and patronymic names. It was the Norman custom to give their names to the places they had conquered by force of arms. The Norman nobles denoted a place by using the diminutive “de” in their surnames, such as de Arcis, de Brus*, Levit, Olifant, and de Warene. It should be noted the name de Brus, belonging to one Robert de Brus was the Norman knight and several times grandfather of King Robert the Bruce of Scotland. It was at this time, the first occupational names came into existence such as Baker, Brewer, Smith, Thatcher, and Weaver.

It was in 1087 the “Great Survey or Doomsday Book” book was created. It was the first comprehensive survey of all aspects of medieval life and culture in 11th century AD England. It recorded the names, occupations, and property of serfs, tenants, tenants-in-chief, knights, lords, and barons, with all degrees and instances between. It has proven to be of incalculable aid in researchers studying surnames, personal histories, and medieval culture.

One of the other major developments in western European surnames was the advent of the Crusades. Pope Urban in 1095 at the council of Clermont preached for a religious crusade to secure the holy sites of the christian faith from those followers of Islam. He also hoped his crusade would also benefit a possible reunion between the Roman Catholic faith and what was to be eventually called the Eastern Orthodox faith. It should be noted most knights and nobles of this time period were not illiterate. Many learned their bible lesson in Latin, and Hebrew, as at the time of the crusading period, there was not a unified Latin version of the bible. As crusaders returned from the Holy Land or Levant, the soldiers and knights brought back with them names which were Hebrew in origin but had become Christianized, names such as, “Adams, Issac, Jacob, Lott, and Luke.”

The next major development in surnames comes from the time of the Avignon Kings of England, Henry II, Richard “The Lionhearted”, and King John. They instituted a continuance of the taxation system started by William the Conqueror. There tax records were kept initially in large vellum scrolls, referred to today as the “Great Pipe Rolls.” The pipe rolls in themselves became the established basis for English and later British taxation practices for six hundred years. The records were kept current and up to date from 1233 AD to 1833 AD. During this period of record collection, one of the great societal changes in European history occurred. It came in the form of the “Black Death or Bubonic Plague.” Fully a quarter of the world’s population died in seven years time, from 1346 AD to 1353 AD.

The “Black Death” reorganized medieval culture, by providing an opportunity for peasants, serfs and similarly bonded people to leave the lands which saw their birth. Agricultural workers were for the first time in medieval English society allowed to travel and more importantly charge wages for their services. This fluidity in medieval society and the concept of working for wages, gave rise to a burgeoning middle class of skilled labor, craftsmen and future bureaucrats all who worked not because they owed allegiance or fealty to a lord, but for their own enrichment. Locator names previously in use only in records such as the “Pipe Rolls,” were now coming into their own as a way to differentiate people of the same first name from everyone else. Location names popular at the time, usually referred to a major city or shires such as, “Atwood, Birmingham, Hemphill, Hull, London, Lichfield, Lancaster, Pool and York.”

This spread of surnames slowed during the time of the 100 years war between France and England, and with the English specifically it slowed once more during the first English civil war, historically referred to as the “War of the Roses.” from 1455 AD to 1487 AD the princely houses of “York and Lancaster,”-incidentally both place names, vying for the throne of England.

By the time of the Tudor Dynasty’s establishment the basis and basic usages of surnames had come into full force of use and were being recorded as such in both litterateur and legal documents. This was the time period which gave rise to such literary notables as, “William Shakespeare, and Christopher Marlow.” The age of discovery which followed several years after Queen Elizabeth’s death in 1603 AD, was the first widespread dissemination of surnames in the English speaking world.

It is at this point what we would recognize as a formal first name and surname came into everyday occurrence. What follows for researchers is the unenviable task of deciphering multiple spellings of the same name, oftentimes from the same region. Names were often spelled phonetically, or as close to as possible per the person writing the name or the educational level of the clerk or official recording the surnames. The other stumbling block to many researchers is when a family who has immigrated to a different land chooses to differentiate their own name from other members of the same family with a late 18th century example, “Menteith, Monteith or Montooth” All three Scottish surnames, found in the Boston, Massachusetts records and belonging to two brothers and a first cousin, who wished to strike it out on their own, with their own surnames.

Researching surnames is an extremely fun way of learning world history and the role our ancestors played in those events. It can also be frustrating and hard to track down facts, names, birth dates and other vital statistics. However it can be done. It is worth the effort in finding out where you came from, and the oftentimes fantastical odds our ancestors had to overcome in order to bring future generation into existence.

For those who live in America, every major political upheaval or protracted war since the Thirty Years War (1618 to 1648 ) has resulted in immigration to North America and points father south. Almost every culture in Europe and most of the ones in Africa now have a representational populace in the United States of America. To study names and their origins is to study the history of the world at a small and personal scale. I hope this brief article has helped to give you a starting place for the timeline and development of surnames. Please do not hesitate to contact our staff with your questions.

Westernmost portion of the Roman Empire collapses from internal strife, and successive wave of Barbarian invasions.376 ADRome invaded, sacked and burned by Visigoth forces.410 ADLast great battle of the Roman Empire happens at Challons Gaul/France between Roman Legions, Germanic Allies, fighting Attila the Hun and Hunnic forces. Estimated casualty count conservatively tops 100,000 dead or wounded<451 ADWestern Europe falls into a period called the “Dark Ages.”500 AD through 800 ADThe rise of “Kings” and feudalism replaces Roman civil authority in Gaul, Britain, Spain.410 AD through 8 ADSaxon Tribes leave south-eastern Germany travel north to the Friesian coast and embark on invasion of Romano-Britain.456 ADScoti tribes from Northern Ireland invade southern Scotland north of the Hadrian’s Wall. Establish Dal Riada and The name later becomes known as “Scotland.” Pictish people of Southern Scotland displaced by Scoti invasion raid into northern England/ Wales region seeking a homeland for themselves and their people.510AD to 530 ADUmayyad Moslems from North Africa invade Spain displacing Christian Visigoth Kingdom.711 AD to 788 ADUmayyad Moslems from North Africa invade Spain displacing Christian Visigoth Kingdom.711 AD to 1492 ADUmayyad forces invade the Frankish Kingdom of Gaul. Invasion is stopped and Moslem forces are defeated in battle outside of Tours, by Charles “Martel” or (The Hammer) Duke and Prince of the Merovingian Franks. The battle of Tours marks the high water mark of Islamic invasion of Europe. The battle also ensure the majority of Western Europe would remain Christian.

*Charles Martel although not a King, establishes the Frankish Kingdom, and brings about the age of Feudalism. Considered the father of the Medieval period, his grandson Charlemagne, becomes one of the greatest Kings of Europe and later the first Holy Roman Emperor.

Vertical Timeline
The Roman Empire, Roman families create surnames, referred to as Gentes/Gens. Family names which have survived to modernity include: Cornelius, and Aurelius. 27 BC to 496 AD
Emperor Flavius Honorius tells Britain to “Look towards their own defense.” 410 AD
Charlemagne crowned Christmas Day as first Holy Roman Emperor 25 December 800AD.
Britain undergoes successive waves of colonization by Saxon Germanic tribes. Angle (Local Celtic/Latin people) become subservient to Germanic Saxon Lords. The very beginnings of the English language start to emerge. 800AD through 1100 AD.
William Duke of Normandy, after rescues Harold Godwinson from drowning off the coast of Normandy, Earl and later King Harold swears fealty and allegiance to Duke William. Swears to give England to Duke William for his assistance in saving his life. Edward the Confessor dies, Harold does not pass on crown to William. William invades in September, subsequently Harold dies at the Battle of Hastings, and William becomes King of England, and is crowned on Christmas day Westminster Abbey. 1066 AD.
The Great Survey otherwise known as the “Doomsday Book” the first comprehensive accounting for all property and peoples in England is collected and collated for Tax purposes. However there are regions left out of the Great Survey, such as Durham which was run by the Church and not subject to William the Conquerors Taxes. London and similar royal holdings are not recorded. 1087 AD.
“Boldon Book” Created to help asses and govern large tracts of land and people within Church properties. 1183 AD.
Pope Urban preaches and calls for the first Crusade in the holy land at the Council of Clermont. 1096 AD.
Returning soldiers bring with them new surnames originally from Hebrew sources such as, Issac, Jacob, Luke and Adam 1099 AD to 1444 AD
The Avignon Kings Henry II, Richard the Lion Heart and King John continue with the tax rolls established by William the Conqueror. With King John establishing what are later to be called the ”Great Pipe Rolls.” Which for seven hundred years provided the most comprehensive tax and governance records in the history of England. The rolls or records, are of incalculable help for researchers collecting information on early, middle, and late medieval life, surnames, and property listings. 1130 AD to 1533AD.
The Black Death or Bubonic Plague strikes Europe in successive waves, and decimates a full quarter of the human population on the entire planet. Estimates range from Seventy million to two hundred million dead world wide. It also changes and alters medieval feudal society in western Europe. Surnames come into widespread usage in England, Wales and portions of southern Scotland for the first time. 1346AD to 1353 AD.
Occupational surnames such as, Baker, Thatcher, Weaver, Smith, Barber, Brewer, come into usage. Along with locator surnames such as, York, London, Atwood, Lichfield, Mares, Pool and Butts. 1350 AD to 1495 AD.
Hundred Years War is lost, and most of the English possessions in France with the exceptions of the Cinque ports revert to French control. The aftermath of the loss of French holdings spawns the dynastic war of possession of the English throne later called the War of Roses. 1455 AD to 1487 AD
France launches its North American colonial and commercial venture in what the French called Canada. Later to be the province of Quebec. 1487 AD to 1603 AD
England under Henry VII and his son Henry VIII and later Granddaughter Elizabeth I enter into a period of isolation, with costly expenditures of coin and capital with their ongoing conflicts in Scotland and France. This period of redeveloping England’s economy after the Black Plague, and subsequent Dynastic struggle only end with last years of Elizabeth’s reign. 1607 AD
Jamestown, commercial venture along the Eastern Seaboard of North America, later to be called Virginia is founded. Names associated with Jamestown:Archer,Brookes, Bruster, Crofts, Clovil, Dixon and Gore. 1620 AD 1697 AD
The second colonial venture in North America is founded by religious separatists later to be called Pilgrims. Pilgrims established the Plymouth Colony. Its success lead to further commercial and religious ventures in North America. Names associated with the Plymouth Colony: Alden, Allerton Bradford, Brewster,Standish, Smith
The Thirty Years War, which was a direct result of the Protestant Reformation, was until the advent of World War II the single most devastating conflict Europe had seen. The aftermath spurred the great powers into creating vast overseas ventures, in both the New World, India, China, Africa and South East Asia. It also caused a large migration of both internal and external populations. 1618 AD to 1648 AD
Incidentally at the same time, The Huguenot Wars of Rebellion wracked France. This was a conflict based on religion, the Huguenots were French Protestants. There was at least three major rebellions which resulted in large scale immigration to neighboring countries and French holdings abroad. 1620 AD to 1622 AD
1620 AD to 1622 AD
1627 AD to 1628 AD
England in its desire to create an overseas trading, and colonial empire, makes an alliance with the French Crown, to prosecute a war against the Spanish Habsburg holdings in North, Central and Southern America. After a protracted and fruitless campaign, British forces besiege and take possession of the Island of Hispaniola. The British rename the island and call it Jamaica. 1657 AD
With their Jamaica holdings, British authorities expand their holdings in the Caribbean, and with those expanded properties a Sugar Cane Planter society soon developed. Large number of Former French subjects, primarily Huguenots (Protestants) were allowed to leave to France and moved to British oversea holdings. 1629 AD to 1670 AD
South Carolina (Carolina) became one of the larger holdings in the growing British Colonial/Economic sphere of influence in North America. It was chartered by Sir Robert Heath. French Huguenot families established in Jamaica and other Caribbean properties were amongst some of the first colonists to the region. *French immigrants arrived in three successive waves. Prominent names are: Ravenel, La Salle, and Gerard. 1670 AD
1680 AD
1690 AD
It should also be noted, planter society in the southern colonies, created one of the largest markets for African slaves second only to Brazil. The first slaves arrive in Jamestown, Virginia in a Dutch trading vessel. (The first slaves to the Americas were indentured servants, not African slaves. Indenture ends after a set period of time. Slavery ended with the civil war.) 1619 AD to 1865 AD.
The dawn of the 18th Century saw a significant number of German immigrants to American Colonies of New York and Pennsylvania. By the time of the American Revolution, German Mercenaries from the Hesse-Cassel region were hired by King George III to help maintain order in the American Colonies. It is estimated 30,000 troops served, with less than half returning to Germany. The remaining soldiers asked permission to become citizens of the new United States. German immigrants to America, continued until well after the post Civil War era.German Surnames make up the largest names by percentage in the United States of any Western European ethnicity. * 1695 AD to 1782 AD
General immigration to North America, originating primarily in western Europe. 1784 to 1845
Irish immigration to North America, Australia, and New Zealand, and South Africa have continued to this day. The Irish have left Ireland as colonists, immigrants and soldiers since the Cromwellian wars of religion in the middle half of the 17th Century. Oftentimes referred to as the Irish diaspora, Irish immigrants and forced immigrants (famine victims and convicts) have moved to the farthest stretches of the globe. 1700 AD to Present.
Fully a quarter of the Irish population relied solely upon the potato to feed themselves. When the potato blight struck Ireland roughly one million Irish were forced to immigrate overseas in an seven year period. It is estimated fully another million died of starvation. * Although it should be noted food production leaving Ireland bound for oversea ports actually increased as there was a surplus of foodstuffs for sale in export markets. 1845 AD to 1852 AD.
California Gold Rush and Transcontinental Railroad. With the discovery of Gold at Sutter’s Mill, sparked a massive migration of Americans and immigrants from Europe and Asia, in hopes they might exploit the riches in the California gold rush and subsequent silver strikes in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, hastened the construction of the Transcontinental railroad. Post Civil War American society became xenophobic, Anti-Chinese legislation was enacted, and Chinese immigrants were forbidden from entering the United States of America. (Proposed in 1870 finally ratified in 1905) 1848 AD to 1868 AD
European immigration to America from Central and Eastern Europe. With the unification of Italy, under Garibaldi, Italian immigration levels to America spike. Russian Pogroms against Eastern Jewish populations result in large scale movement to both the United States and Canada. Czech, Romanian and Croatian Miners, imported to American western mining concerns. Large population of German and Irish workers move westward to work on rail roads, and farming industries. 1880 AD to 1925 AD
Immigration to the Americas slows during pre and post World War One. With the onset of the Great Depression immigration levels drop once more. The new arrivals who do make it to America, after the war originate mostly from Eastern European countries such as, Poland, Lithuania, *Ukraine (Which was then a large part of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics.) 1930 AD to 1939 AD
World War II-saw little or no allowable immigration from continental Europe. Asian immigration was also not allowed during the war period. 1939 AD to 1945 AD
Post WWII, witnessed one of the largest migrations of populations in Europe since the dark ages. Eastern European countries were occupied by USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) forces, in attempt to expand their influence abroad.Western Europe, specifically Germany, Italy and Austria were shattered, and had to be largely reconstructed. Those fleeing communist expansionist policies moved into Western Europe.

Large scale immigration waves, were seen in the United States of America, Canada, and Australia. With a large population of Death Camp survivors moving to British controlled Palestine, where three years after WWII would see the Jewish War of Independence and the foundation of the state of Israel.

America now accepts most immigrants from around the world regardless of sex, political affiliation or religious creed. It should be noted it is increasingly difficult to migrate abroad as ever increasing costs and regulatory restrictions are now in place.

1945 AD to Present.

All of our very best!
John Lehman

For those wishing to look up their family name, finding as many spelling variations in your name as possible is essential. It will help you narrow your focus on particular locations you might be able to discover via historical records, or immigration lists. There are some fortunate few who have clearly delineated ancestors who because of fame, fortunes of war, or being born into a politically astute family are able to trace their names to the earliest portion of the medieval period, namely the 8th through the 12th centuries with the barest minimum of spelling variations. The Talbot Earls of England, and Ireland are one such family. Talbot family fortunes were established with the Invasion of England by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, specifically 1066 AD, with the 22nd and current heir still living in England and occupying a seat in the House of Lords.

For those who’s ancestors were not initially in the ranks of those who belonged to the noble ranks of medieval society, most men and women at the time, used their first or given name.


A lot of exciting things coming soon from COADB!  One of which will be a regularly updated blog for in depth discussions on surnames and more!

Very excited for the new Coat of Arms Database!