Arguably, Americans have the richest, if not the oldest,
heraldic tradition in the world. Many immigrants' forefathers
were armigerous, meaning they had personal coats of arms
granted to them or their ancestors by the sovereigns of their
home countries. Many of these "old countries" still have an
official or quasi-official heraldic system. So chances are
that, regardless of your ancestors' origins, you have a
fascinating armorial history and tradition, if not a genuine,
inheritable coat of arms of your own.
The original recipient of a grant of arms was an
individual, not an entire family. This person did not have to
be of noble or royal birth, though. Instead, he (and very
recently, she) could have been a prominent merchant, soldier
or public figure whose coat of arms, or "achievement", was
personal property inheritable only by direct descendants.
People called Heralds were, and still are, the experts who,
oftentimes in concert with the recipients, devised the design
of the coat of arms. In the United States, of course, there is
no sovereign or any officially sanctioned system of heraldry.
Anyone who wants to own a coat of arms may do so.
This is where a qualified heraldist such as Don can help.
He assists in one of two ways, always using the traditional
heraldic rules and conventions of the country of origin - -
If you have already inherited an ancestral coat, he can
create an illustration of it, many times returning it to its
original form and colors, as over the years many such designs
have been misinterpreted by well-meaning artists who lacked
If you want to originate a coat of arms, Don's job is to
ensure that the design is a reflection of you - your vocation
or profession, hobbies, interests, achievements, geographic
origin and personality. Furthermore, he can provide direction
as to how to register your new achievement with one of the two
organizations in the U S who exist to expand and preserve our
own heraldic tradition. This way your children and their
descendants can inherit a legitimate symbol of their
A final note of caution: Unfortunately, it is widely
assumed that there is such a thing as "a coat of arms for my
family's name", so that everyone named Smith, for example, is
privileged to claim the same coat. There are a number of
commercial enterprises that will sell you a coat of arms based
upon this general assumption. Purchasing one of these coats
and claiming it as your own is roughly equivalent to claiming
to be descended from some total stranger whose name happens to
resemble your own; there's the very slimmest of chances that
the coat is rightfully yours.