With a little research and the right resources, you can find a family coat of arms to add dimension to your genealogy work. Several sites offer these graphics for free, allowing you to enhance everything from family tree charts to presentations and slideshows for your next family reunion.
A coat of arms usually includes a shield with a specific pattern for your family, plus a crest and wreath, a helmet, supporters like animals or figures, and sometimes even your family motto. They're pretty elaborate, but they can tell you (and other people) a lot about your family.
Where to Find a Free Family Coat of Arms
Lots of websites offer free family crests and coats of arms, as well as information on lineages and heraldry. Whether you need to download them to use or just want to learn a little more about the symbols of your family history, these are a good place to start.
The Armorial Register - International Register of Arms
The Armorial Register - International Register of Arms offers a wealth of information about heraldry. We're talking tons. This is the definitive source for nobility and royalty in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the United States. You can use their family coat of arms finder to search by surname and view the coat of arms associated with that family.
The Tree Maker
The Tree Maker is a retail site, but they do allow you to freely search for and view your family's surname, coat of arms, and brief history in their database. This site also gives the country of origin. This information is very enlightening for beginners in genealogy — plus anyone else who likes learning about the history of their family. If you can't find your family surname, you are invited to call the company and they will search for you under different countries and spellings.
All Family Crests
All Family Crests allows you to view your family crest, coat of arms, or shield. This site displays worldwide graphics with German, Australian, Scottish, Italian, Spanish, Welsh, English, Canadian, and American origins. You get to see both the picture and the history and meaning. These are fully printable, making this a super valuable website for the genealogist.
House of Names
House of Names is a retail site that offers free viewing of coat of arms and family histories. It will cost you to download products with the graphics, however. Currently, they have free descriptions of more than 800,000 coats of arms, making it one of the largest databases in the world featuring coats of arms and surname histories. It's a good starting point, even if you don't want to buy anything.
Tips for Finding and Using Your Coat of Arms
If you have a common surname, finding your coat of arms on one of the above sites will be easy. Not everyone has a common surname, though. Less common last names may be a little more challenging, but we've got some tips to help you find and use your coat of arms:
Use Original Spellings
You will most likely find a family crest for the original spelling of your family name. If you have traced the records back to an ancestor who had the original spelling, then it is still your coat of arms (even though the name may be spelled differently in your line today). Check several different variations if you are having trouble.
Not sure about the original spelling? Don't worry. Just try anything you have seen in family records or if you've done some research into your family tree.
Trace Your Lineage
Remember that most coats of arms were assigned to one particular family and not to the surname in general. This is an important thing to remember because unless you trace your lineage directly to the individual or specific family who obtained the coat of arms, it is possible you may not legally have the right to claim it. In laying claim to a particular coat of arms or title, every ancestor must be fully documented back to the source, the individual who received the coveted title (Duke, Lord, Knight, Count), or coat of arms.
Even back in the days when a family coat of arms was a huge deal, there were disagreements about which family could claim the design. There was even a special court that made the decision, called the High Court of Chivalry.
Trace Other Surnames
Not every family had a coat of arms, so don't worry if yours doesn't. If you can't seem to find a coat of arms associated with your surname, you can try another name from your family tree.
Get Creative With Your Coat of Arms
Once you obtain your free family coat of arms, you can create everything from family slide shows to family trees. You might even decorate your personal website or take the graphic to a printer to have any number of products created. However, if you're using a free site, be sure you have the artist's permission to use the graphics as you intend.
Another way to get creative? Make your own coat of arms. It might not be official, but it can still be an awesome representation of your family.
Add Interest to Your Family History
You don't need to pay a lot of money for graphics or buy expensive products to view your family's coat of arms. Lots of sites provide this information for free. Once you find your coat of arms, you can use it to make your family history even more real and interesting.