What is a Coat of Arms? According to Wikipedia, a coat of arms in Europe is a design that is officially granted to a particular person (or group of people) that is used in various ways to demonstrate their identity. Since a lot of us are researching our family lines in the United States and finding that our lines come from England and Scotland, we’ll take a look here at some information specific to those regions. If your ancestors come from some other region, I encourage you to search the web for more information.
According to the College of Arms in England
“coats of arms have been and still are granted by Letters Patent from the senior heralds, the Kings of Arms. A right to arms can only be established by the registration in the official records of the College of Arms of a pedigree showing direct male line descent from an ancestor already appearing therein as entitled to arms, or by making application through the College of Arms for a grant of arms. Grants are made to corporations as well as to individuals.”
So, just like you are not necessarily related to someone with the same surname as yours, you or your family do not have a coat of arms just because one was granted to someone with your surname at some point in the past. In the rare situation that you are actually related to someone with a coat of arms, you would have to submit your pedigree proving that fact to the College of Arms in England to have the coat of arms granted to you.
There are hundreds of websites, magazine ads and mall kiosks that want to sell you a nicely framed ‘official’ coat of arms for your surname. They may look good. But, in all likelihood they have nothing to do with your family. So, if you want something to hang in the foyer or on that blank wall in the study, beware! I think a nicely framed picture of Great Grandpa Jones is a better choice.