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Heraldry is the design, use, regulation, and recording of coats-of-arms. Originally, coats-of-arms were granted to individuals, not families. However, sometimes the right to bear a coat-of-arms was inherited by the descendants of the person to whom it was granted.
In Germany mainly the noble class, gentry, and some burghers (city residents with citizenship rights) were entitled to bear coats-of-arms. The ruling monarch granted a noble title and the right to use a coat-of-arms as a reward for persons who performed a heroic deed, achieved a notable accomplishment, or held a prominent government position. These grants were documented.
The laws and practices of heraldry have changed over the years. In the eighteenth century, many burgher families had coats-of-arms that they recorded with the appropriate government agencies.
An annotated bibliography of heraldry books is found at:
Various authors have prepared armorial, or heraldry, books. An armorial is a collection of descriptions of coats-of-arms and the families that bear them. It also briefly describes the family's entitlement to that coat-of-arms. It may note early bearers of the coat-of-arms and sometimes notes their relationships, birth dates, and other genealogical information. Each armorial differs from the others and includes different names.
Some minor noble families are not included in any books. The following sources are of particular interest in Germany:
- Rietstap, Johannes Baptist. Armorial Géneral. Two Volumes. Gouda, Germany: G.B. van Goor Zonen, 1887. Reprint. Berlin, Germany: J.S. Stargardt, 1934. Reprint. New York, NY, USA: Barnes and Noble, 1965. (FHL book940 D6r; films 1,045,393 items 2-4 and 1,045,394.)
- Siebmacher, Johann J. Siebmacher's grosses undallgemeines Wappenbuch (Siebmacher's great book of general heraldic arms). Six Volumes. Nürnberg, Germany: Bauer und Raspe, 1857-1920. (FHLbook 943 D6j old ser.)
The books below index Siebmacher's work:
- Jäger-Sunstenau, Hanns. General-index zu den Siebmacher'schen Wappenbüchern (Generalindex to Siebmacher's heraldry books). Graz, Germany: Akademische Druck und Verlagsanstalt, 1964. (FHL book 943 D6j index 1964; film 1,181,781 item 4.)
- Index to v. 1-3 of Siebmacher's Wappenbuch. Chicago, Illinois, USA: Newberry Library, 1971. (FHL book 943 D6j index 1971; film 1,181,790 item 9.)
The Family History Library has collected many armorial and heraldry books. These are listed in the Place Search of the catalog under:
GERMANY - HERALDRY
GERMANY, [STATE] - HERALDRY
Sources with information about noble ancestors may also be listed under:
GERMANY - NOBILITY
GERMANY, [STATE] - NOBILITY
Such families are often subjects of published genealogical books or articles. See the “Genealogy” and “Nobility” sections.