Some Facts About Coat of Arms and Designing One For Fun!

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In the 12th Century the symbol of the Coat of Arms was used to identify families or individuals. It was very widely adopted by kings, princes, knights and other major power holders throughout western Europe. By the mid-thirteenth century, the coats of arms were adopted by priests, cities, towns, commoners, peasants and burghers. They used them as seals or other insignia.

The Coat of Arms was originally designed for medieval battle purposes. They were meant to represent the achievements of the person, state, or corporation to whom or which the arms were granted. Generally refers to a detailed design to a cape, shield, crest and helmet.

Armorial bearings, or coats of arms, take us back to the glamour of the middle ages. In days of old, knights displayed heraldic devices on their horses’ caparisons, their servants’ liveries, and on their banners and shields. As war medals are awarded today, the coat of arms and other heraldic devices could be awarded to knights for their service in battle. But the primary role of coats’ of arms was identification in battle – the bright, vibrant colors and symbols identified the knight to his men, and his flying banner was a rallying point for them.

A family crest is altogether different and should not be confused with the Coat of Arms. A family crest refers only to the small image that lies on the helm (top of the helmet). 

Heraldry refers to the study of coats of arms, and takes its name from the Heralds, who were the special ambassadors and messengers of feudal times. They were employed by all great lords, and by the king. Because Heralds traveled freely around the country, they were also the armorial officials. They granted armorial bearings. At tournaments, it was the Heralds’ job to check that no knight appeared in the tournament lists displaying the heraldic devices of another. In battle, it was the Heralds’ job, on both sides, to identify the living and the dead, and to declare the winner.

Originally the term coat of arms was the surcoat that was embroidered with armorial bearings. This surcoat or cloth tunic was worn over armor shielding it from the sun’s rays. It was used to distinguish one knight from another. It repeated the bearer’s arms as they appeared on his banner or pennon and on his shield, and it was particularly useful to the heralds as they toured the battlefield identifying the dead.

Prior to the Coat of Arms being used and adopted, it was extremely dangerous for fighting armies on each side. Whenever a knight was fully dressed (with his full armor with his plate mail and helmet) no one on the battlefield could be recognized during conflicts. Because of this, knights were creative and began to paint symbols on their shields. So that knights could be easily identified and recognized – the “coat of arms” came to be.

Once the Coats of Arms were awarded to individuals, such as a knight or an earl, they had the legal right to display it and be recognized. Any person having the right to display and bear a coat of arms must either have had it granted to them or be descended in the legitimate male line from a person to whom arms were granted or confirmed in the past.

The designs for coats of arms included four main things: the shield was divided into sections. Each section had an image with something that was recognizable with the family for which the coat of arms was made for. On either side of the shield, there might be objects or animals – such as a dragon, griffin or lion – these images on the shield look like the animal was holding it up.

Many families today seek a connection with their ancestors through their coat of arms. However, obtaining an official right to display a true coat of arms – i.e. an armorial bearing that was granted to your ancestor – can be a long and tedious process. And for many people, they may not even have an ancestor who was granted an official coat of arms in the first place.

There is always an option to create a crest for yourself or your family from scratch. It may not be “official,” but it can be fun to customize a coat of arms that is specific to you, your interests, hobbies, family history, philosophy, or religion, to name a few examples.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun designing your own coat of arms. Of course, it will never be recognized by any government or College of Heralds (the folks charged with keeping track of official armorial bearings), but it can be a fun family project nonetheless.

If you have an artistic bent, design your own coat of arms using art from one of the dozens of heraldic clipart libraries online. To make your fun family coat of arms look authentic, you’ll need two basic components: the field, and the charges (also known collectively as “the shield”)

Over time, the coat of arms has come to simply mean the shield we so often think of when imagining a classic coat of arms. The color that the shield is painted is called “the field.” Any item which was painted onto the field of the shield was called “the charge.” Therefore, if a shield has a lion painted on it, it’s said to be “charged with a lion.”

Common charges on shields included animals, mythical beasts, birds, plants, flowers, and inanimate objects. Charge your own coat of arms with any symbol which has meaning for you. 

Anyways, have some fun making a Coat of Arms with your kids and add it to your genealogy files. It’s a good way to spend some quality time with the ones you love.

Other Heraldry Resources

An excellent website to learn more about heraldic symbolism is at Heraldry and Crests https://www.heraldryandcrests.com/pages/heraldic-symbolism-a-z

Also, check out on the Family Search website the article on ‘How a Family Crest or Coat of Arms Leads to Family Discovery’ and be sure to read the infographic for ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding a Coat of Arms’ at visual.ly.

More Resources for Designing Your Own Coat of Arms

Don’t feel like making a coat of arms from scratch? These sites offer to put a coat of arms based on your last name on a wide variety of products. (Note to serious genealogy researchers: These sites should be consulted and used for entertainment only. They shouldn’t be deemed to accurately contain a coat of arms to which you may have a legitimate claim.)

17 Resources For Tracing Your Family Ancestry

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If you’re like me, when you were young, looking beyond your mother and father to find out where you came from just wasn’t important.  

Well, I’ve found that the older I got, the more important my ancestry became.  I’m not sure why.  There are so many holes and unanswered questions. Maybe I have a broader perspective on things now and need to search.  Maybe you’re just curious like I am – is there a famous historical figure or do we have distant ties to nobility in our families’ past.  Perhaps we are looking for some wild or romantic skeleton in our closet.  

Whatever our reasons are, I find tracing my ancestry awe-inspiring and fascinating.  If you like history then you will love ancestry in discovering your personal history. Ancestry and history are intertwined and unique. It is very interesting to learn about other people – how they lived, what they did, who they knew. But I’ve also learned along the way that most people haven’t a clue what resources are available to them beyond the usual – interviewing family, checking birth certificates and newspapers, etc.

Below is a list of 17 resources you will be able to take advantage of if you’re really serious about finding out about your ancestry and “where you came from.”

  1. The obvious, of course, is interviewing family members; not only mom and dad, but aunts, uncles, distant cousins.  Start by drawing a quick family tree going back just two generations and start making calls or sending mail or emails.  Here are some of the basic things you’ll want to know:
  • Complete names (married and maiden names)
  • Addresses throughout their lives
  • Birth records
  • Military service (when and where)
  • Marriage records (even attendants, if possible)
  • Property records (state and county)
  • Burial records (where)
  • Old pictures, especially if they have names and dates
  1. Old Family Bibles.  While it doesn’t seem to be such a common practice these days, in the past, families kept their bible forever, often keeping record of family members, births, marriages, and deaths on pages within the bible. Acquiring a bible from a family member is a heirloom that should be cherished – it’s a piece of family history that could hold clues to your past.
  1. Old Family Letters.  Once again, with technology, we’ve all but lost the art of letter writing (what will our own children and grandchildren have to look back on in years to come?).  But older generations tended to preserve letters of importance; Christmas, birthday and valentines day cards.  These letters and cards can oftentimes be of great value in tracing your ancestry.  They may contain important dates, facts, and places that will be of help.  Check return addresses and postmarks for more information.
  1. Legal documents are a great resource.  Such documents include deeds (property addresses), wills (names of kin you may not have known about), marriage licenses (note the witnesses), birth certificates, voter registration, adoption records, and even judgements. Your search for these documents should begin within your state/provincial and county records.
  1. What about associations your ancestors may have belonged to?  These would include churches, clubs, veterans groups and lodges, all of which may be able to provide background information for your search. 
  1. Census data.  After 1840 the Census collected age, place of birth, occupation, personal wealth, education, spouse, children, hired hands, and even immigration information. Copies of the original decennial census forms from 1790 through 1930 are available on microfilm for research at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, DC (http://www.archives.gov/), at Archives regional centers, and at select Federal depository libraries throughout the United States. 

In Canada, search on the government website for censuses from 1825 – 1926. Lots of information available on this page to search for your ancestors.

Check FREECEN for free information or the online censuses at ‘The National Archives’ for UK censuses from 1841 – 1911.

In Australia, the best place to search for census data on relatives would be the Public Records – Census date go back to 1828.

  1. Naturalizations records.

For Pre-1906 Naturalizations:

Contact the State Archives for the state where the naturalization occurred to request a search of state, county, and local courts records.

Contact the NARA regional facility that serves the state where naturalization occurred to request a search of Federal court records.

For Naturalizations After 1906:

After 1906, the courts forwarded copies of naturalizations to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Naturalizations from Federal Courts are held in the NARA’s regional facilities for the Federal courts for their area. Learn more: http://www.archives.gov/genealogy/naturalization/

For a FREE Immigration and Naturalization try searching on this RootsWeb site. This website has excellent information for new genealogists.   

  1. Grave sites!  Headstones will give dates and possible family names. A few websites to check for your ancestors are:
  1. Libraries.  Here you’ll find newspaper articles (look for obituaries, and birth and marriage announcements) and books on local history (what was taking place during their life).  Many libraries can be accessed online.  You will also find genealogy information in several libraries, the Allen County Public Library in Indiana having the second largest genealogical collection in the US.  Another good source is the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, UT.
  1. Genealogy message boards.  Google “genealogy message boards” and join in–you’ll find a wealth of information available! 
  • Try an initial search with OnGenealogy – has a list of 8 FREE genealogy message boards to continue your research.
  • Genealogy.com – GenForum is the ultimate research resource with over 14,000 online forums devoted to genealogy, including surnames, U.S. states, countries, and general topics.
  1. Military records.  You’ll find several sources online, including NARA (http://www.archives.gov/st-louis/military-personnel/).
  1. High school and college yearbooks.  These sources can help locate a relative or provide other resources for your search.  Check online.
  1. Family pedigrees.  These are family groups already linked in a computer system. Accessing an individual’s family group sheet in a linked pedigree will also give you access to all of the records that are linked to that individual.  Two great sources are Kindred Connections (http://www.kindredkonnections.com/index.html) and the Family History Library (http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Library/FHL/frameset_library.asp). 
  1. U.S. Immigration records. Two great sources are Ellis Island Records (http://www.ellisislandrecords.org/) and Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com/search/rectype/default.aspx?rt=40)
  1. Social Security Death Index.  This is a database of people whose deaths were reported to the Social Security Administration (SSA) beginning about 1962. The best source is RootsWeb.com (http://ssdi.rootsweb.com/?o_xid=0028727949&o_lid=0028727949&o_xt=41534187).
  1. Family History Daily has an awesome list of 50 no-cost family history resources where you will find birth, marriage and death records, obituaries, cemetery listings, newspaper articles, biographies, research tips and so much more.
  1. Genealogy Explained also has 26 websites for your arsenal of genealogy tools and resources in your family tree research.

Now that you’re all grown up and interested in finding your “roots”, these 17 resources should get you well on your way with your ancestry research.  It’ll be a fun and rewarding adventure.

Taking a FREE Course and Learning About Genealogy

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Why is genealogy so popular? Compassion in learning the history of our ancestors which helps us gain a greater understanding of how they lived in the past.

This is a very important step for anyone thinking of or is new to starting their family tree. 

Are you contemplating taking a genealogy course? If the answer is yes! Read on…

Get the basics and learn how to research the right way. Learn more about your ancestors and where you came from. Understand what you are undertaking; focus and prepare your way before starting any family tree research.

First and foremost, learn the basics of genealogy. Tracing your family tree will be an exhilarating and fascinating journey while you dig deeper into your past.

Taking a course will help you understand the genealogy research process and how to interpret the information you find. Learn how to uncover the past and record your family history. 

Discover different research strategies. Learn how important surnames are and what challenges genealogists have with name variations and name changes. 

Develop a strategy to accomplish your goals and objectives; evaluate the results, and share that information with others. 

Discover where to look, who to contact, and how to make your family history come alive!

Learn about the main source types that include civil, church, census and military records. Learn how to use these different kinds of data in research. 

Record your findings. Bring your family tree to life by properly citing any documents, maps, letters, photos, etc and attaching to the person you are researching. Protect your document.

Remember, learning how to prepare your family’s genealogy the correct way will be – challenging and personally rewarding for you. Leave a legacy for your descendants, a genealogical history that they will be proud of and display. 

Research for FREE genealogy courses that are available! 

Below are eight website links to help you get started:

  • Udemy Free Introductory Course to Genealogy –  A pre-research course to introduce you to genealogy. Sign up for a FREE account and enrol for this FREE beginner course.
  • FamilySearch Learning Center – Has a wide range of FREE genealogy courses available for learning.
  • Lisa LissonWhere To Find Free Genealogy Courses – It’s Easier Than You Think! An article with 11 website links to ‘Free genealogy courses and webinars are a great way to improve a researcher’s genealogy research skills and increase the chance of finding your ancestors.’
  • Future LearnGenealogy: Researching Your Family TreeFREE Course – Dive into your family ancestry and learn how to create a family tree on this online genealogy course.
  • Family History Daily7 Places to Find Free Genealogy Courses and Webinars Online – Links to seven websites offering FREE structured genealogy courses or helpful webinars that cover modern research methods that will open your eyes to a whole new world of genealogy discoveries.
  • Legacy Family Tree Webinars – Check out the FREE Library (also a dropdown box from 2010-21) for various topics and also available in other languages as well.
  • Genealogy.comGenealogy Learning Center – Trace your family’s history for FREE on Genealogy.com as they will guide you along with how-to articles, genealogy guides and other resources. An excellent resource with lots of different subjects covered.
  • Learn Web SkillsResearching Your Family TreeFREE interactive tutorial where you can study subject headings in whatever order you would like. A good starting course to begin with.

If you feel the need to pay for genealogy courses in the future – by all means, as it is your prerogative. But in the meantime, be frugal – save yourself some money and enrol in some FREE courses first. 

What are you waiting for? Select a FREE course today and learn some basic genealogy. Get started on your Family Tree.

I hope that you found this article informative. 

Good Luck!