Ask Yvette – Does my family have a coat of arms?

Several people have contacted me wanting to know if they have a coat of arms or family crest.

Five things to know about coats of arms

  • Most people did not have coats of arms. Most people who used coats of arms, were well-to-do. Often they were nobles, rich merchants (patricians) or administrators. If your ancestor was a poor farmer, chances are that he did not have a coat of arms.
  • Anybody was free to adopt a coat of arms. There was no need to have it recorded. This means there is no central register that we can consult.
  • Adopting somebody else’s coat of arms is ‘not done.’ Coats of arms were used to distinguish one family from another. Adopting a coat of arms that belongs to another family is against heraldic regulations and considered as ‘usurpation.’
  • Coats of arms weren’t strictly hereditary. Although most people who used coats of arms adopted the same one that their father used, others chose to combine the coats of arms of both their parents, especially if the mother came from a notable family. Different branches of the family may have used different coats of arms, or one branch may have used a coat of arms while another did not.

In other words, the answer to the question: “Does my family have a coat of arms?” is “only if you adopted one.” Anybody can choose to adopt a coat of arms, you don’t inherit one.

book with crest and hanging seal

Nobility charter of the De Breff family, 1709.1

How to find out if your ancestor had a coat of arms

A more relevant question might be: “Did any of my ancestors use a coat of arms?”

The only way to answer this question is to find a source that includes your ancestor with the coat of arms. This requires that you first research your family tree. Simply finding a coat of arms with your name is not enough, there might have been many people by that name.

One way to find out which people used a crest is by checking the heraldic collections of the Central Bureau for Genealogy. These collections are being entered into the Heraldische Databank [Heraldic Database].

Beware of charlatans

Beware of charlatans out there. There are several firms that will be happy to sell you a picture of “your” family crest. My grandmother had a lovely Marijnissen coat of arms on her wall, created by a research firm in the US. When I traced the image back to its source, I found that it was for a complete unrelated De Maurissens family. It appears that the firm just looked up the name in a book of arms and chose a coats of armsfor a name that had the most letters in common.

Needless to say, this was not our coat of arms. My Marijnissen ancestors were poor, so I haven’t been able to find a coat of arms and don’t expect I ever will.

How to adopt a coat of arms

If you want to adopt a family crest you have two options:

  • You can adopt a coat of arms that is in use in your family. The most common scenario is if you find an original source in which your ancestor in the strict male line used a coat of arms.
  • You can design your own coat of arms. You can choose to have it recorded, for example with the Nederlandse Genealogische Vereniging. This does not have any legal standing, but helps to make sure that your coat of arms is only being used by your family and that it follows the heraldic guidelines.

Have any of you found ancestors who used a coat of arms? Do you use one yourself? Please leave a comment and tell me about your coats of arms.


Sources
  1. Emperor Jozef II, nobility charter for Jacobus de Breff, call number 149, 1709; Familie Van Grotenhuis, record group 0462; Gelders Archief, Arnhem, the Netherlands; online finding aid and digital image, Gelders Archief (http://www.geldersarchief.nl : accessed 27 March 2015)
About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink, CG® is a board-certified genealogist in the Netherlands. She has been doing genealogy for almost 30 years. Her expertise is helping people from across the world find their ancestors in the Netherlands. Read about Yvette's professional genealogy services.

Comments

  1. Hi Yvette,
    I was also interested in “family crests” and my mother applied to a company in order to buy me a nice Christmas present. At least this company was careful to explain that they were providing me a variety of crests belonging to people in the past with my surname, but there was no guarantee I was related to any of them. I had six or seven crests to choose from, from three different countries! Since I still don’t know where my father’s surname originated from, I felt free to just pick my favorite. 🙂 I now have a “family” crest on my wall of a blindfolded woman holding a sword. While I know she is really a figure of justice (whoever held this crest was probably a judge or something, according to the company) how often do you find a crest with a *woman* holding a sword? I loved it. 😀

  2. sue cole-uden says

    My family comes from holland and germany. I am 3/4 dutch and 1/4 german. They come from the northern part of both countries. We do have a family crest. I am still waiting for my sisters family history. That is all i know and also there is a city that has my birth name there. It is uden.

  3. Michiel thoolen says

    Hi Yvette

    I am from Holland and have worn my grandfathers signet ring since I was 21. My brother has my late fathers original ring, his son has my fathers second solid gold ring. I am trying to find out more about the origins and details. The ring is gold with a light blue stone with our crest engraved. The crest has a shield with one duck on top and three on the shield. There are various floral decorations around the shield. Could you help me with this.

    Kind regards,

    Michiel Thoolen

  4. Yolandi in't Veld says

    Good day, my husband grandfather came from Netherlands when he was 16 years old to South Africa. So we think that our surname orgin is in Netherlands as most people have similar surname to us. In South Africa we are only 9 in’t Veld’s. Will you be able to assist in getting our surname family crest?

    • As I describe in the article, most families do not have a coat of arms. There is an In ‘t Veld coat of arms in the Heraldic Database but I would have to research your tree to find out if you are descended from the person who used that coat of arms in the 1600s. If you are interested in pursuing this, please contact me and provide me with the names of your Dutch ancestors and I can give you a proposal.

  5. Hey Yvette , my grandfather came from holland to Australia and has recently passed . His last name was Pragt and Was wondering if they had a family crest as you say not all family did but I’m very keen to see if they had a coat of arms cheers

  6. Pieter Nootenboom says

    Is there any place where there is a register of modern grants of amorial coats of arms granted to Dutch families even from overseas like uk?

  7. Jeremy Van Ampting says

    I was wondering if the van Ampting family has a crest? And what it looks like. I have tried to research several sites but to date have nothing. Thank you

  8. Adriaan Loosjes says

    Yvette, I have a family crest that has been handed down through the centuries for both the Loosjes and Brutel de la Riviere families. I wear a 200 year old Loosjes crest signet ring but would like to know the origin and meaning of the crest. The earliest Loosjes I have been able to trace dates back to the early 1500’s and was involved in the early days of founding the Menonites. I mention this as I believe the crest may have origins in a religious foundation. The Brutel de la Riviere crest is more complicated and intriguing. The Brutel de la Riviere family were Huguenots and established themselves in the Netherlands before the French Revolution. Is their crest of aristocratic origin? Any help you can offer would be greatly appreciated. Even if you can give me some clues where to start looking. Much appreciated.

  9. Kent Thibault says

    Greeting from Canada
    My name is Kent Thibault, descendant from a dutch family, Dobbelsteyn.
    Our extensive family in the province of New Brunswick are planning a summer weekend celebration of the 100th anniversary of immigration to Canada. As part of the planning committee I am seeking a “family crest” that we could incorporate into our “logo” for the event. I found one match in your database. I cannot say that it is directly associate with my branch of the family.
    Any help would or advise would be much welcome! Thank you.

    • Like the article says, the only way to know if your family ever used a coat of arms is to do research. The start would be a literature survey and if that doesn’t turn up promising leads you have to look for sources like charters, paintings, family silver, and graves that may show coats of arms. That is a lot of work and requires a good understanding of Dutch research.

Leave comment

*