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European Resources for family historians: European Heraldry

This State Library of South Australia guide highlights resources available at the Library as well as various databases and websites that may assist your search for ancestors in Europe and the Mediterranean.

Heraldic terminology

Above are just a few basic descriptors of items you may find on a coat of arms

European Heraldry Societies Websites

Please note that these websites are not arranged in any particular order and some of them are not available in English.

Lion Rampant

Various examples of the Lion Rampant.  This symbol was used to indicate great courage or valour, and was often used as a symbol of a great warrior or chief.

Introduction

There is a temptation for many family historians to want to lay claim to a Coat of Arms for their family name. However an understanding of Heraldry and its rules of application are necessary before any such usage can be correctly made.

Heraldry began in the 12th century, probably in response to the wearing of helmets with armour, which made recognition of leaders more difficult. Use of a coat of arms on a banner, shield or coat made distinguishing between men in armour possible. Heraldic bearings became hereditary as the son of the original feudal lord retained the original pattern to guide his followers into battle.

Coats of Arms can be found in many European countries, including Poland, Hungary, France and Germany. 

Amorial bearings usually belong to an individual, and usually may rightfully be used by the male-line descendants of the individual to whom they were granted or first allowed. In this way, not everyone with a particular surname can lay claim to the use of a coat of arms. It is necessary to trace one's male-line ancestry back as far as possible and then examine the official records of the heraldic authority concerned.

Heraldic Arms of Malta 1964 to 1975

Europe

Books in our collection that may assist you in tracing heraldic and armorial information in Europe

General

Armorial universe (in French)

Armorial général ; précédé d'un Dictionnaire des termes du blason  (in French)

Rietstap, J. B. Armorial general (in French)

V. & H. V. Rolland's Supplement to the Armorial général by J.B. Rietstap (in French)

Planches de l'Armorial général de J.-B. Rietstap (in French)

A European armorial: an armorial of Knights of the Golden Fleece and 15th century Europe, from a contemporary manuscript; edited by Rosemary Pinches and Anthony Wood; with an introduction to Polish heraldry by Bernard J. Klec-Pilewski

European nobility and heraldry : a comparative study of the titles of nobility and their heraldic exterior ornaments for each country, with historical notes

France

Dictionnaire et armorial des noms de famille de France

Grand armorial de France

Italy

Dizionario storico-blasonico delle famiglie nobilienotabili Italiane, estinte e fiorenti

Elenco ufficiale nobiliare italiano

Enciclopedia storico-nobiliare italiana : famiglie nobili e titolate viventi riconsciute dal R. governo d'Italia compresi : citta, comunita, mense vescovili, abazie, parrochie ed enti nobili e titolati riconosciuti

Enciclopedia storico-nobiliare italiana ... : Supplemento : Saggio di bibliografia araldica italiana 

I motti delle famiglie italiane

Motti araldici editi di famiglie italiane  

Malta

The genealogy and heraldry of the noble families of Malta

The genealogy and heraldry of the noble families of Malta. Volume 2

A key to Maltese coats of arms

Poland

Herbarz polski Kaspra Niesieckiego S.J (pedigrees for Poland - in Polish)

A European armorial: an armorial of Knights of the Golden Fleece and 15th century Europe, from a contemporary manuscript; edited by Rosemary Pinches and Anthony Wood; with an introduction to Polish heraldry by Bernard J. Klec-Pilewski

The Library holds an extensive collection of books on heraldry. These can be found by searching under the subject Heraldry in the Library's catalogue database.