Heraldry is the designing, use, regulation, and recording of coats of arms and related emblems. Originally, coats of arms were simply "assumed", that is, designed and adopted by the person using them. Eventually, the crown reserved to itself the right to grant coats of arms to individuals—not families or surnames—and strictly limited the use of assumed arms in Scotland. A person entitled to bear arms is called an "Armiger."
An Armiger’s legitimate male descendants can inherit the right to use his coat of arms, either unchanged (by the eldest son) or with specific differences (for younger sons and their male descendants). However, most Scottish ancestors did not have a coat of arms.
The crown awards the right to use a coat of arms to:
- Persons who perform a heroic deed.
- Persons who make a notable achievement.
- Persons who hold a prominent position.
Such grants are recorded by representatives of the crown called the "King’s Heralds."
In Scotland the heralds work under the direction of the Lord Lyon King of Arms, who is responsible for rights to arms and pedigrees. Heraldic records are housed at the following address:
Court of the Lord Lyon King of Arms
New Register House
Unlike England, where beginning in the sixteenth century heralds visited all parts of England to discover who was using coats of arms, in Scotland by an Act of the Scottish Parliament, the Lord Lyon King of Arms was authorized to keep a Public Register of all Arms and Bearings, beginning in 1672, in which all coats of arms lawfully borne in Scotland were recorded, and which continues to be expanded and is available at the above address.
Heralds developed terms to describe the records they kept:
- Armorials: Alphabetical lists of names with a description, or blazon, of the arms.
- Ordinaries: Similar books that describe coats of arms and arrange them according to design. Some minor armigers are not included in any books.
The Family History Library has many books on heraldry, including armorials and ordinaries, laws of heraldry, and explanation of terms. To find their call numbers, look in the Locality Search of the catalog under:
SCOTLAND - HERALDRY
GREAT BRITAIN - HERALDRY
Public Register of all Arms and Bearings: http://www.heraldry-scotland.co.uk/register.html