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Thread: Family coat of arms symbols - what do they mean?

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    United States Avalon Member Strat's Avatar
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    Default Family coat of arms symbols - what do they mean?

    Years ago my grandfather gave me a (shoddy) copy of our family's coat of arms. I'd rather not post a pic of it but I'll describe it. And for what it's worth my family is German, apparently different countries designed these things differently.

    The shield has lions in the top left and bottom right. They are identical, both standing on hind legs, right foot forward, arms outstretched and holding a torch in their right hand held at about head height. Left paw outstretched but dead straight. The torch looks odd, it's a sphere with a flame on top of it.

    Top right and bottom left are owls. Ya know, the typical owl looking over his shoulder.

    Dead center of the shield, (more or less) superimposed over parts of the lions and owls is what I assume the 'U-shaped,' wheat symbol.

    On top of the shield is a helmet with a cross on the 'cheek' area or whatever. On top of that is a winged lion. Very similar to the lions on the shield, but this one holds a sword.

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    I've read a few different websites but they don't seem legit. Have any of you folks done research on these things? Thanks in advance
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    A Voice from the Mountains (14th May 2019), Bill Ryan (13th May 2019), BMJ (14th May 2019), Mike (13th May 2019), WildOrchid (13th May 2019)

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    United States Avalon Member WildOrchid's Avatar
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    Default Re: Family coat of arms symbols - what do they mean?

    I have decades of expertise and experience in the field of Heraldry. Heraldic symbols, just like words or other type of symbols can vary in meaning depending on the intent of the issuer/designer of the Coat of Arms. PM me for more specifics.
    Artist - Lover of Life - Seeker of Truth

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    United States Avalon Member A Voice from the Mountains's Avatar
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    Default Re: Family coat of arms symbols - what do they mean?

    Quote Posted by Strat (here)
    Years ago my grandfather gave me a (shoddy) copy of our family's coat of arms.
    You probably already know this, but those coats of arms were only inherited by the family patriarch, who was usually a noble lord heading a relatively large and powerful family in his region, going back to the feudal era. The actions and attributes symbolized on a coat of arms were often personal to the patriarch alone whether from action on the field of battle or whatever, then passed on to his son (or next in line to inherit it), and gave little information on the family as a whole.

    The great majority of your ancestors would not have been nobility, or taken coats of arms into battle, or displayed them anywhere else, even if they shared the same name. But a little information is better than nothing, and maybe it can help you do more specific research into your family in some particular region at some particular point in time.

    If your name were "MacDonald," for example, you can find a coat of arms for the MacDonald Clan from Scotland, which was passed on from one patriarch to another. The patriarch's family likely lived in a castle, and the rest of the family in the countryside surrounding that castle, along with allied families. (My own ancestors were mortal enemies of the MacDonald Clan in Scotland.) You could probably find books and other things about the MacDonalds in Scotland, how they got on their lands, their local history and significance, the other families they married into and allied with, etc. etc., and that's the kind of stuff I find much more rewarding in terms of family history.

    The nobles, however, usually have records going much farther back in time, and in more detail than other family members, so they can help you trace those other areas.
    Last edited by A Voice from the Mountains; 14th May 2019 at 06:08.

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    Default Re: Family coat of arms symbols - what do they mean?

    Both those responses are pretty accurate.

    I think it is rare that an "entire" coat of arms would be passed down. Usually it is just the motto. The crests stand for knighthood (helmets), or different grades of nobility (crowns). So if you inherited a Barony, you would use the Baron's crown, probably the motto as well, but personalize the shield by making some kind of change. It would probably keep the colors and symbols, but might change a lion's pose or placement or something. Might be different if you are a patriarch, but most are not.

    As to anyone having one, aside from nobility, or for identification on the battlefield, I believe it is just a matter of registering with the relevant authority. It is really a personal coat-of-arms, and just a type of medieval ID. You can call a "winged lion" a griffon, it allows these, unicorns (Scotland), and perhaps a few other oddities.

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