Crozier’s Virginia Heraldica

Joseph McMillan
Joseph McMillan
Total Posts:  7658
Joined  08-06-2004
27 October 2015 12:06

Shifting here from the thread on nobiliary entitlements, which has gotten wackily off-track.

I took a look last night and this morning at what my own research reveals on the reliability of W. A. Crozier’s Virginia Heraldica (VH).  My gauge of what is a valid entry is based on two possible qualifications:


1.  Is there evidence that the arms were actually used during the colonial period and, if so, does Crozier accurately describe what was used?


2.  If there is no evidence of actual use, does the most recent available genealogical research by an apparently uninterested party support descent from someone who can be shown to have used or had a right to use the arms in the country of origin?  If the genealogical research is not current, or is by someone with a dog in the fight, does the claim to the arms depend on leaps of logic, vague family traditions, undated paintings, etc., that cannot be verified, and so on.


VH contains 286 entries.  By the standards described above, I categorize these as:


- 193 (67%) accurate, other than typos and other really trivial errors in blazoning.


- 51 (18%) substantially inaccurate, discussed further below.


- 40 (14%) yet to be verified.  These are arms described to have been on seals, tombstones, or silverware that I believe are still extant but have not yet seen either in person or in a photograph.  (I’m hoping to make a major dent in this pool in the next couple of weeks.)


Of the 51 substantially inaccurate arms, about 20 are blazons with significant mistakes—incorrect tinctures, misinterpreted charges, botched "corrections" of puzzling blazons by earlier researchers.  A few are flatly bizarre, including the totally fictitious Steptoe arms; a perpetuation of an earlier antiquarian’s assignment of the arms of Burwell in Burke to the Virginia Burwells, even though their tombstones uniformly show a different coat of arms; and several cases where Crozier’s source (usually L. G. Tyler in the William and Mary Quarterly) accurately describes what’s on a seal or tombstone and, for no apparent reason, Crozier describes something else.


This leaves about 25 cases where Crozier attributes arms based on demonstrably incorrect pedigrees, usually by members of the family concerned.  Some of these are simply erroneous, evidently done in good faith but with links that have only been disproven within the last few decades by professionals with access to records that could not reasonably have been available to the original authors (e.g., the entries for Branch, Buckner, and Pawlett).  In several cases, the original genealogy was sufficiently persuasive to convince the NEHGS Committee on Heraldry to register the arms; when the "proof" has been disproven, the COH has duly rescinded the registration.


And, finally, some of them are simply the kind of imaginative, glamor-seeking, "creative" genealogy that Fred describes, perhaps 5% or so of the total.


And lastly a note:  many of the arms given in Crozier were of people who are stated in VH to have left no descendants at all, or none in America.  I can’t see any bucket-shop motivation for including arms that clearly can’t have been inherited by the people using the book.


So my bottom line on VH:  the scholarly standard is not what it should have been, either heraldically or genealogically, but there’s a lot of good information.  You have to approach it with considerable skepticism, however—not "trust but verify" but rather "don’t trust; verify."  But I cannot find any systematic bucket-shoppery on Crozier’s part.


I hasten to add that without several years of similar verification of the entries, I would not extrapolate these conclusions to Crozier’s General Armory one way or the other.