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Heraldry - Discovering Your Family Coat of Arms

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It has been discussed many times and a number of people have often wondered: "What IS my family's Coat of Arms?" and "HOW do I find out?"

There are a few key points to keep in mind when doing this kind of specialized research.

1. If you are Full-Blooded Eskimo, Aborigine, Pygmy, Neanderthal, Iceman, Hobbit (yes, this was an actual human race), Martian, or any other Race, which does not have direct European ancestry, then you don't have a traditional Coat of Arms. Some such as Chinese Royal lines DO have something similar, but it isn't the same thing and is unrelated to the questions asked above.

2. Don't use one of those Coat of Arms advertisement companies, which promise you all kinds of family information based around whatever your Surname happens to be. They used to be seen in magazines and television ads. Their main purpose is to make sales - NOT to provide you with the correct information about your family line or its legacy. It may be A Coat of Arms for a family branch WITH THE SAME NAME AS YOURS, but that doesn't mean it is your family branch. You very well, may be unrelated. This is why, if you use two or more such services, you end up with conflicting Coats of Arms and information. Don't do it.

3. This is the most important rule of thumb to keep in mind when doing Coat of Arms research:

  • The Coat of Arms of your Family Branch is the very last Coat of Arms used by a direct ancestor (Grandfather or Grandmother [rarely held by a female]), who was either Knighted or were of Noble or Royal Blood - the so-called "Blue-Blooded Aristocracy".

This means if your immediate ancestor had a father, grandfather, sibling or other relative who ALSO had a knighthood, be it earned or inherited, then those other Coats of Arms are NOT the one INHERITED BY YOUR FAMILY BRANCH. And - Yes - you can have only one Coat of Arms to your Surname.

Here is where it gets confusing.

Some knights inherited multiple Coats of Arms from deceased relatives, who died in battle or through other means. Generally, the rule was that only the Coat of Arms of the most directly related and most immediate person with a knighthood is the one used by a Family Line of Descent. This isn't always the case. A knight, at times, may have "reactivated" a "retired" Coat of Arms, if that relative's kin all were known to have been extinguished. This was rare, and almost never occurred.

Knights gained their individualized Coats of Arms generally only upon reaching full-knighthood beneath their Lord or Lady - this did not have to be a Royal Head and could easily be the lowest ranking person of Noble-Blood or a high ranking Knight. In England, this is still the current process for those who receive a Title of Knighthood - they have to select a Coat of Arms just prior to the ceremonies wherein they are knighted. This is true unless they have an inherited Coat of Arms, to which no other living person has laid claim for their personal use, such as a traditional Coat of Arms used by the son of a King who has died, keep the Coat of Arms "alive" in the way, instead of creating a new set.

However, there are situations in which a Knight could legally change their Coat of Arms, to modify it with the most current update to their personal history. Call it a medieval form of Posting to their Facebook. Most of the most popular events were:

- Winning Key battles or Defeating Key opponents - Marriages or Deaths of Spouses - Births of Children - Captured Territories - Trophies (Bragging Rights) - Acquired Titles and advancements - and so on.

They could use any reason, nearly, as long as no one stood against their wanting to change their personal Coat of Arms. Remember, that each change had to go through a long process overseen by Specialized King's Scribes, who created, applied and charged for each modification or change made (they had to be sure the Coat of Arms were unique to the person, so that confusion didn't result in battle). This process varied little from Kingdom to Kingdom.

The only time a person possessed an individual Coat of Arms before being knighted, was usually if they were of Royal Blood, such as a Prince. Most of those looking to be a knight, but who had yet to prove themselves, wore matte colored shields and banners, void of any Coat of Arms. These were often Black, Grey, Green, Rust, or Ocher, although some others existed as well.

Remember: If you want to know your Family's Inherited Coat of Arms, then you need to do a little research - discover the last knighted relative in the family - this is (or should be) your Family's Coat of Arms. Don't go by your Surname, as that type of assumption will lead to incorrect information.

Note: Technically, you would look at all your family ancestry branches and use the one most recent as your FAMILY Coat of Arms. This is the one on your Paternal Father's line, going from Father to Father to Father and so on all the way up to the very last Knighted person in your family - it is hereditary on the male line only, for the most part. If one of your Coats of arms on this line is younger than the rest, it takes precedence. If you were going for knighthood, you could create a new one for your personal heraldry and use from the old bunch you inherited, but since you probably aren't going to be Sir Angelina tomorrow, you'd just use the youngest.

As mentioned in the discussions, there are other considerations, but this is the basics.

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Punishment for using someone else's Coat of Arms or one not recognized by authority includes: Imprisonment, De-knighting (not sure about this term), Trial by Combat, Quest, Castration, Flogging, Stoning, Drawn and Quartered, Flaying, Impalement, Beheading, Hanging, Execution and (of course) Death, as well as other very imaginative punishments, used through history to "Make Examples of the Malefactors". These punishment laws are still legally active in several old kingdoms, but haven't been practiced in some time.

A COA (Coat of Arms) was and is the public face and reputation of an individual or group of individuals (Family), and any act against it was treated as an act against the person/ group. Not many people knew a knight by face, but they DID know the Coat of Arms at a glance. This - like modern Futbol (Soccer) and Football (American) - was a sport-type enthusiastic past-time. When you consider sports-fans, multiply that by 1500% and you get the reaction of what would happen if someone else was caught "wearing the enemies colors" or "impersonating an officer."

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Please read this insightful Geni Project: http://www.geni.com/projects/Heraldry/17907

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For further Research:

* http://armorial.library.utoronto.ca/sites/default/Brief-heraldic-guide.doc.pdf

http://www.royal.gov.uk/MonarchUK/Honours/Knighthoods.aspx

http://history.howstuffworks.com/historical-figures/knight3.htm

http://www.lordsandladies.org/order-of-knighthood-ceremony.htm

https://www.google.com/search?q=Knighting+ceremony+in+Europe&espv=2&biw=1366&bih=705&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=0CCoQsARqFQoTCKTqqfzd78YCFcyigAodBq8Gdg

http://teacher.scholastic.com/lessonrepro/reproducibles/profbooks/coatarms.pdf

http://www.heraldicsculptor.com/heraldry.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coat_of_arms

http://www.yourchildlearns.com/heraldry_activity.htm

http://www.library.ipswich.qld.gov.au/files/2012/06/Instructions.pdf

http://www.worldchesshof.org/uploads/2012/08/10/knightk4fa.pdf

http://www.mytribe101.com/crest/

https://www.google.com/search?q=How+did+Knights+select+a+Coat+of+Arms&espv=2&biw=1366&bih=705&source=lnms&sa=X&ved=0CAUQ_AUoAGoVChMI-IG2rN7vxgIVi3A-Ch2PDwvg&dpr=1#q=teutonic+knights+coat+of+arms

https://www.google.com/search?q=How+did+Knights+select+a+Coat+of+Arms&espv=2&biw=1366&bih=705&source=lnms&sa=X&ved=0CAUQ_AUoAGoVChMI-IG2rN7vxgIVi3A-Ch2PDwvg&dpr=1#q=Knights+Templar+coat+of+arms

https://www.google.com/search?q=How+did+Knights+select+a+Coat+of+Arms&espv=2&biw=1366&bih=705&source=lnms&sa=X&ved=0CAUQ_AUoAGoVChMI-IG2rN7vxgIVi3A-Ch2PDwvg&dpr=1#q=japanese+samurai+coat+of+arms

https://www.google.com/search?q=How+did+Knights+select+a+Coat+of+Arms&espv=2&biw=1366&bih=705&source=lnms&sa=X&ved=0CAUQ_AUoAGoVChMI-IG2rN7vxgIVi3A-Ch2PDwvg&dpr=1#q=origin+of+coat+of+arms

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Additional Information:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papal_Orders_of_Knighthood

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Order_of_the_Bath

http://www.heraldica.org/topics/orders/knights.htm

Famous Recent Knight, Sir Elton John: https://www.google.com/search?q=Sir+Elton+John+Knighted&espv=2&biw=1366&bih=661&source=lnms&sa=X&ved=0CAUQ_AUoAGoVChMI5Ne1_-rvxgIVSBc-Ch1CEwTO&dpr=1

Honorary Knight, Sir Lady Gaga (Didn't happen): https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=Was+Lady+Gaga+Knighted