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 Finding an achievement in our archives which has been verified by several different historical references such as Burke’s Peerages, can be the needed bread crumb which can then lead you down corridors of knowledge and more importantly where and to whom your family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:
- – Is considered the physical defense knights once wore to protect themselves in battle.
- – 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.
- – 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.
- – 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.
- – 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.