Genealogists who have artistic talent could decide to make their own family crest. Is that acceptable to do? Are there any rules you should follow? What about the “etiquette” involved in this project? Here are some helpful do’s and don’ts for genealogists who are considering making their own family tree.
Don’t: Copy someone else’s coat of arms or family crest.
The American College of Heraldry explains it best. To usurp the use of another person’s coat of arms is highly improper and is a dishonest practice. It isn’t, technically speaking, against the law to do it, but you should still avoid it.
Keep in mind that copying the coat of arms from someone else’s family could lead people to believe you really are related to that family. It also can be seen as denying your own line of descent. These actions are seen as dishonorable.
Do: Realize that the coat of arms you create is not legitimate.
Originally, a coat of arms was granted to one individual. His son could inherit it. In some cases, members of the same family were allowed to display a family crest on rings and other items. In other words, you cannot simply sit down and paint a coat of arms and state that it is equivalent to the ones that were granted (and certified).
It is best to consider the coat of arms, and family crest, that you create to be a work of art. They are nice to look at, and fun to make. If you choose to display it in your home, it would be best to make the origin of your coat of arms clear to your guests.
Do: Take the time to learn the meaning behind the symbols.
The animals, plants, people, and designs that appear on a coat of arms (and also in a family crest) have specific meanings. Each color you see in a coat of arms also conveys something specific. Take the time to find out what something means before you put it into your artwork.
Not sure where to begin? The American College of Heraldry has a very detailed list of heraldic meanings that you can look at and learn from. You cannot ignore the commonly held meanings of what you put into your coat of arms if you are hoping to have it certified someday.
Don’t: Base your design around your surname.
There are many people in this world whom you share a surname with. Obviously, this does not mean you are related to all of them. Genealogists with the last name of “Smith” or “Jones” quickly discover that truth. How much meaning would a coat of arms based on your surname really have?
Instead, you can do something different. Choose an ancestor and make a family crest for him. Include elements in the design that have a meaning that relates to his accomplishments, occupation, and life. Another option is to make one for yourself. Have fun with this project for a while, and then return to your genealogy research.
Image by John Morgan on Flickr.< Return To Blog