Heraldry is the designing, use, regulation, and recording of coats of arms and related emblems. Originally, the crown granted coats of arms to individuals—not families or surnames—to identify them in battle. 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. 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
New Register House
In the sixteenth century, heralds visited all parts of Scotland to discover who was using coats of arms. They asked for proof of male descent from the original grantee. These heraldic visitations were recorded in Public Register of all Arms and Bearings, 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