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Overheard in GenForum: Hawkey Coat of Arms
by Rhonda R. McClure

Each week Rhonda answers a question from the GenForum message boards and gives her expert answer here. We'd love to hear anything you have to add. Go ahead and leave your comments on GenForum with the original message.

July 27, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Q: I am searching for information on the coat of arms for the surname HAWKEY. I am seeking confirmation of one found. -- Bob

A: Family historians are fascinated by coats of arms, especially those researching from the United States. Perhaps it is the beauty and pageantry of the whole thing. After all, they used only the most royal of colors - gold, silver, blue, purple.

However, few really understand what a coat of arms is and who is entitled to claim it. There has long been a confusion about this, compounded by the sale of coats of arms to individuals based solely on the surname.

A coat of arms cannot be claimed just because you share the same surname.

A Brief History

Heraldry, or armory as it is more properly called, became established during the second half of the 12th century in Europe. The devices that were displayed on the shields were how those knights in the Middle Ages were able to distinguish friend from foe on the battlefield. After all, it was difficult to tell who was who under all that armor.

In the beginning, arms were associated only with the greater nobility. However, by the middle of the 13th century, lesser nobility, the knights, were also using them. And it is the knights that we most often associate with armorials or heraldry.

How Are They Awarded?

Arms are granted only by the King of Arms in England, by Lyon King of Arms in Scotland, and Ulster King of Arms in Ireland. Many find that our ancestry takes us back to these countries, and it is often the arms from these countries that are supplied in commercial "arms for sale" offerings. Of all the arms, though, these are the most strict in who is entitled to bear the arms in its original format.

Many other countries also offer arms, and their requirements differ. Some countries offer arms for localities. Some additional countries can by found by visiting Cyndi's List - Heraldry.


For many countries a coat of arms is inherited. There is usually a designated individual in the family who can inherit the arms as it is in the original format. This is generally the eldest son of the eldest son.

This is not to say that others in a family could not bear arms. Other individuals of the immediate family could use a varied arms. Slight, but distinct changes are made to the arms, thus identifying each individual.

In today's modern United States we have a similar identifying item - our social security number. More and more this number is relied on to identify us as an individual. Not nearly as impressive, and not inherited, but an identification all the same.

In Conclusion

There is much confusion surrounding coats of arms and who is entitled to claim one. Few of us can rightfully claim a coat of arms as it is published in a book. However, it may be possible, with detailed research showing your connection to the original receiver, to request from the appropriate body, the King of Arms in England, for instance, a varied arms that can be registered and join the ranks of the many other registered arms.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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