Get Your Coat of Arms - Is It A Scam?

Author: Robert W. Penry @ 2021


You have probably seen the ads, or been to a festival where a booth has been set up offering to research your family’s coat-of-arms.
There are several of these companies offering this “service” They will provide (for a price) a beautiful framed certificate showing the origin of your name. You can purchase plaques of all sizes with your coat-of-arms. You can purchase license plates, mailboxes, house signs, etc, all with “your” family coat of arms. You will also find stores all over Europe, especially in airports offering you mugs, coffee cups, etc. with “your” coat of arms.
It is all a scam. Why?
There is no such thing as a family coat of arms.  The college of heraldry issued (and still issues) coats of arms to individuals, not families.
These companies look at the many names within the books of heraldry, pick one out and tell you that this is your coat-of-arms.  If you are entitled to a coat-of-arms, you will know. It is not something that you can just do because of ancestry. It is assigned to you by the College of Heraldry. If your ancestor was John, Earl of Pembroke, you do not bear his coat of arms unless it has been passed down to you. You cannot assume a coat-of-arms on your own. Coats of arms were also issued to Titles (i.e, Count of Troye) and passed down to the eldest son. They were issued to Cities, Counties, Regions, and Countries.  Today, most coats of arms either are assigned to members of royal families or are issued to individuals who have made a significant contribution to society. 
Displaying a coat of arms of your ancestor, or country is fine if you wish to do so.  But understand that these companies are not able to give you a coat of arms and therein lies the scam, because these companies all advertise that they will provide your coat-of-arms.  This is an outright lie. These companies simply pick out someone with your surname that has historical significance and tell you that this is your ancestry. This is a bunch of baloney.  
Take my name for example.  I had one of these companies at a festival look up my name on their computer.  They pulled up, on the screen, a beautiful looking certificate that I could then purchase for $10, letting me know that my name originated in Cornwall and gave a bunch of nonsense about my family. I have no idea where they obtained the coat of arms.  My name is a Welsh patronymic – not Cornish.  I know with whom and where it originated. In summary, it is OK to display a coat-of-arms that belonged to an ancestor, but not to claim it as yours.
Go ahead and buy these certificates and plaques if it makes you feel good but do it with the understanding that it information probably isn’t true. When someone shows me their coat of arms, I usually just nod and say, “Very nice.” I don’t want to deflate them by telling them the truth. Now for the real kicker.  Can you get a coat of arms for yourself?    YES!!!   There are several Colleges of Heraldry, including one in Canada.  If you can prove you are a descendant of anyone who had a coat of arms or if you have made significant contributions to society or have a position of importance (or have a lot of money), you can apply and might be accepted and issued the coat of arms of your ancestor and your name be entered into the books of heraldry as a recipient of a coat of arms.  
Yes, U.S. Citizens are qualified. Families often had family crests.  The crest was usually a pin or broach.  If a person in the family received a coat of arms, the crest was normally part of the coat of arms and displayed as a small figure at the top.   Can you display or wear the family crest?  Absolutely, if you are a descendent.  You are part of that family.  If you are of Scottish descent, you can wear both the crest and tartan of your clan. In Wales, my family were descendants of Elystan Glodyrdd,  Prince of Buellt, and later also of Fferreg, a portion of Wales that covered what is now a major part of central Wales.  The coats of arms of his family appear below, the left being Elystan’s and the others, two of his sons. The middle image became the arms of the County of Radnorshire in Wales. I am not entitled to these coats of arms,  I can certainly display Elystan’s as long as I indicate that this is the coat of arms of my ancestor.  My branch of the family does not have a family crest.  
However, I am also a direct descendent of Robert the Bruce of Scotland.  This is his coat of arms, family pin, and tartan.  I am entitled to wear the pin and the tartan. 
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