Heraldry
Family Arms & Crests
Clan Badges & Tartans

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England and France
Coat Armor and Crest

Regardless of what you may have heard from the 'kiosk' vendors and the junk mail purveyors of family crests and coats of arms (from Bath, Ohio, notably), the right to bear arms and display a crest was always granted to a single individual, not to a family line. For an excellent general discussion of the practices in the 16th to 18th centuries, see the write-up online at: Heraldry by Joseph C. Wolf

The right to display a coat of arms could be 'passed down' from a father to a son only when the father died and the son applied for his own privilege. The son would normally be assigned a coat of arms "differenced" from his father's -- i.e. with some small but distinctive alteration of features -- to identify a different individual.

Only the eldest living son in the male line has the proper right to display the undifferenced arms as his own. Even the son or grandson of a rightful heir to the arms should not display them as his own unless they are "differenced" or distinguished with the appropriate marks to designate his rank in the family, and registered with the College of Arms or similar body. Similarly the eldest son of a second-born man may never display the undifferenced arms. That right belongs to his cousin only.

All that said, several of our family lines run through people who did have the right to display a coat of arms and a crest. The English families are:

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Scotland and Ireland
Clan Badge and Tartan

The tartan colors were originally a system of rank put in place around 800 BC to distinguish the various classes and professions. A king or queen could wear seven colors; a poet six; a chieftain five; an army leader four; a landowner three; a rent payer two; and a serf one color only. The color system is no longer used as an individual identifier, but as an identifier of a whole clan. Now the right of a chieftain to wear five colors is given to all his relations.

  • Pollock
    One of my Ulster-Scots lines, a sept of the Clan Maxwell
     
  • Stewart
    Another Ulster-Scots line related to the highland clan, not the royal Stewart
     
  • Cantwell
    An Irish family with likely links to Scotland, but only traced after coming to America.
     
  • Maxwell
    The primary clan from which Pollock descends
     

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This page last updated 17-Feb-2008