F.A.Q.’s

The Society often receives a number of inquiries by email and other channels ranging from questions about the assumption and registration of arms, to asking us to view an image of a family heirloom bearing some form of heraldry. We hope that these Frequently Asked Questions can point you to areas of this site or to external groups that may be able to best answer your query.

“Do I have a Family Coat of Arms?”

In short, mostly likely no. In the bulk of heraldic traditions across the globe arms are unique to an individual and pass from one heir to the next. In some systems there is a strict use of cadet differencing use to delineate an individual’s relation to the original bearer of a coat of arms. In some heraldic systems, mainly that of the former Holy Roman Empire, there were family coats of arms, but they were borne only by the direct relations and descendants of the original armiger and not everyone with that surname. In the UK (including Scotland), Commonwealth, Ireland, and by tradition the United States, there is no such thing as a “family” coat of arms, at least as they are often sold or explained. For more details we suggest looking at our page What is Heraldry?

“I bought/was given a Paper with my Family Coat of Arms & History of the Surname. Is that Real?”

Again sadly not. Often at events such as Ren Fairs, Irish American Events, and other public functions with an emphasis on heritage groups in the U.S. there are vendors who sell “family coats of arms” or “lairdships/lordships of (placename)”. These groups have also begun populating the internet and social media as well. Sadly these are often little more than tourist traps and are highly misleading. In many cases the arms which appear on them are outright stoled or pirated images of coats of arms of British and Continental nobility who bear the same surname. Other items such as mugs, wall plaques, keychains, etc often are sold with these faux arms as well, they are best avoided.

“Does the Society Register Arms?”

The American Heraldry Society is not a register of arms, nor do we certify or grant any form of armorial bearings. Members and Fellows do, on occasion, give design assistance to new Members if they are not already armigers; but do not act in the name of the Society to grant or register arms under our auspices. Members of the Society may elect to post their arms in our Members Roll of Arms but this does not constitute a registration with the Society.

“Where should I Register my Arms?”

There are a number of private registers of heraldry in the United States, and many international organizations who serve a similar function. The United States is fortunate to have the oldest private, non-governmental register of arms in the world in the form of the New England Historical and Genealogical Society’s Committee on Heraldry, a part of American Ancestors. They register both historic and newly assumed arms from across the country. Many AHS Members and Fellows have or currently serve on the Committee, which has been in operation since the 1800s. For more information please visit: https://www.americanancestors.org/committee-heraldry

“I have a Family Heirloom and it appears to have a Coat of Arms on it. Can you tell me what it is?

We often have persons send us images of china, embroideries, silverware, watches, rings, etc that have heraldic emblems of some sort on them. We very rarely are able identify something without any provenance or history to the item. If you have something that is very old, as in more than 75-100 years old and you are trying to identify it, we recommending posting an image to our social media as opposed to sending us an email. As then you are better able to draw on the collective knowledge of the group as opposed to the smaller group of volunteers who monitor our emails.

“Can only Men have Coats of Arms?”

In the U.S. both men and women are entitled to arms on an equal basis. In some heraldic traditions abroad however this is not the case. There are some styles of shield that are considered gendered, but their use is by custom here and not enforced. Women are welcome to use the standard shield, helm, crest style or the more traditional lozenge and floating crest form of emblazonment.

“Do the Colors and Symbols on a Coat of Arms mean anything Specific?”

Yes and no. There are no set meanings to the vast majority of charges or tinctures in heraldry. Often an individual armiger may ascribe their own meaning or symbolism to their arms, but the idea that “red is for valor” “blue is for honor” etc. is not a practice that has been pushed by or seriously ascribed to by heraldists. As far as external augmentations however there are many meanings to things such as helms, supporters, etc. as they are indicators of rank. In American heraldic practice the use of external augmentations depicting rank are highly discouraged unless they have been granted by a foreign government or officer of arms.

“Where do I learn more about Heraldry?”

This website contains many resources and guides to the subject suitable for beginners. There are many organizations we would also recommend checking out abroad. Many of these are linked in our Researching Ancestral Arms page. There are also many excellent articles and books that we reccomend which can be found under the Articles and Recommended Reading.