Posts tagged ‘american heraldry society’

Adoption and Heraldry

Arms of Joseph McMillan

The American Heraldry Society (AHS) is very much respected in the heraldic world and maintains one of the most popular forums dedicated to heraldry in the English language. What especially differentiates the AHS from the other societies and forums is the particular focus on heraldry in the United States, taking into account the mixed heritage of its people and the intricacies of its Constitution.

A thread was recently started in the forum of the AHS dealing with the question of how to differentiate the arms of adopted children vis a vis those of biological children.

As expected, the thread evoked a flurry of responses and examples of what happens in other countries were brought up.

Some jurisdictions, such as England and Scotland, have developed elaborate practices on how to differentiate the arms that children inherit and have devised special marks for adopted and “illegitimate” children. For example in England, just like a second-born son would differentiate the arms with a crescent, an adopted child would use a chain link to denote the “link” to the adoptive family.

However, as the AHS covers the United States, what happens elsewhere is not really relevant.

Joseph McMillan, whose arms are at the top of this post, is the Director of Research for the Society and also a member of its Board of Directors. He has a very deep and extensive knowledge in heraldry and has published numerous articles in academic journals both in the USA and abroad. He very clearly put together the most reasonable position, that I agree with 100%, and is very much in line with the traditions and laws of the United States.

Here is his post:

Let me preface this with the obligatory acknowledgement that I know this is a free country, everyone can do heraldically whatever he pleases, and no one elected me the heraldry czar. (I would, however, ask that a family that adopted arms two weeks or two years ago not try to dignify these whims under the heading of “custom.”)

Now here’s why differencing for adoption in the United States is un-heraldic and even un-American.

The English rule requiring a mark of difference to be added to arms inherited by an adopted child is justified on the grounds that the English adoption statute excludes adopted children from succeeding to dignities. Arms were famously described by the Court of Chivalry in the 1954 Manchester case as being “in the nature of a dignity.” But in the United States arms cannot possibly be in the nature of a dignity, because American law does not recognize the existence of inherited dignities.

Furthermore, applying the English (or Scottish) practice on this matter to American arms is anachronistic. Modern adoption–that is, the kind of adoption in which the child of perfect strangers becomes a legally full-fledged member of another family–is a distinctively American invention that was introduced in the mid-19th century. It wasn’t until 1926 that such adoptions were possible in the UK, and some time after that that the kings of arms came up with the chain-link difference to signify that a child was adopted. By that time, we in the United States had been adopting children and presumably allowing them to inherit arms on level terms with their siblings for the better part of a century.

Finally, consider that the reason the English heralds devised a difference for adopted children in the first place was that there was, in their view, a legal distinction between biological and adopted children that still had to be signified in the arms. It is the same logic that drives them to insist on differences for bastardy and, until recently, to insist that married women could only bear arms impaled with those of their husbands. In all these cases, the heraldic “sign” signified a reality that existed in the law of the land outside of heraldry. The same is true of the logic behind differencing for cadency.

But ever since adoption as we know it was invented, the laws in the United States have always treated adopted children as fully equal to biological children. For example, the first modern adoption statute, the Massachusetts Adoption of Children Act of 1851, states: “A child so adopted, as aforesaid, shall be deemed, for the purposes of inheritance and succession by such child, custody of the person and right of obedience by such parent or parents by adoption, and all other legal consequences and incidents of the natural relation of parents and children, the same to all intents and purposes as if such child had been born in lawful wedlock of such parents or parent by adoption, saving only that such child shall not be deemed capable of taking property expressly limited to the heirs of the body or bodies of such petitioner or petitioners.” To require differencing for adoption in the United States would therefore be to impose the use of a sign when there’s nothing substantive for it to signify.

Which strikes me as bad heraldry.

Joseph McMillan, posted on May 9 2011 in the forums of the American Heraldry Society

I don’t think any commentary is necessary as the above stands on its own.


Official Heraldry in the United States

For those who don’t know, the American Heraldry Society (AHS), under the auspices of its Director of Research Joseph McMillan, has done a tremendous job of researching not only the national arms but also those of the individual states comprising the USA.

The main entry on this topic on the AHS site is split into two categories:

  • The national arms
  • The arms of the states

In the first section, the author delves into some of the more interesting topics regarding the arms of the nation. Perhaps the most interesting sections (to me) are those on the criticisms and on the myths & misconceptions.

The second part is noted as a never ending work in progress as more states are investigated and the findings published. Here, you will find information about the arms of:

The link to the article is:

I also highly recommend reading through the rest of the site as it is a true treasure trove of information. If you live or hail from the USA, I would urge you to sign up for a (free) account on the AHS forum. The discussions there are (usually) very illuminating and moderated to keep the quality high.

Note: Images from the AHS site and Wikipedia


Heraldic Societies

As it may already be known to most, there are numerous groups, societies and organizations worldwide that have heraldry either as their main focus or as a collateral of their focus on another area, usually genealogy. Note that I am not referring to governmental heraldic authorities, such as the College of Arms but rather to groups of individuals (professionals or amateurs) that come together to discuss and research heraldry. One can go on and on and list all the societies around the world but, that would be website on its own. As such, I will be focusing on just the major organizations.

Of the many heraldic societies that are located in the United Kingdom, the most famous of them all (worldwide) is The Heraldry Society. The Heraldry Society was founded in 1947 as the “Society of Heraldic Antiquaries” by John Brooke-Little. By 1950, the Society had been renamed to what it is today. It has a large number of members worldwide, publishes several periodicals and also has a certification program on heraldry. The Heraldry Society also has a New Zealand branch for the members there.



Arms of the College of Arms

As an offshoot of the Heraldry Society, the White Lion Society was created in 1986 as a society of friends of the College of Arms. This society focuses on supporting the College with donations of items or publications that may benefit the College. A similar organization exists in the USA and is mentioned below. The name of the society is derived from the supporters of the College of Arms.

Another well known society is the Harleian Society founded in 1869 with the intentto publish the information from the heraldic visitations that occured from 1530-1688 in England, Wales and Ireland. Its publications are a great resource for genealogists but also heralds who want to learn more about the historical arms of the areas covered.


Staying on the island of Albion but, moving north, we have the Heraldry Society of Scotland (HSS). Founded in 1977 with the intent of promoting the study of heraldry in Scotland and also the correct use of Scottish heraldry in the country and around the world. This society has a very vibrant membership that is active on it’s online forum. The HSS has two publications, the Tak Tent and the Double Tressure covering herladic topics of interest to heraldry enthusiasts.


Moving to the continent, we start with the Association royale Office Généalogique et Héraldique de Belgique or Royal Belgian Genealogical and Heraldic Office, also known as the OGHB. Founded in 1942, it registers its members’ arms and publishes them in its journal called Le Parchemin. Although not a governmental agency, it does enjoy royal patronage.


The best known and most respected French heraldic society is the Société Française d’Héraldique et de Sigillographie or French Heraldry and Sigillography Society. Among other things, the Society registers arms with a notary to establish a date that can be used in court.

In Germany, we find the “Der Herold,” Verein für Heraldik, Genealogie und Verwandte Wissenschaften or “The Herald” Association for Heraldry, Genealogy, and Related Sciences, located in Berlin. Its publication, the Deutsche Wappenrolle Bürgerlicher Geschlechter, publishes the arms of its members who have registered with them.


In Serbia, we have the Српско хералдичко друштво „Бели Орао“ or Serbian Heraldry Society “White Eagle”. It is a professional organization in Serbia with a national focus in its research of heraldry, vexillology and genealogy.


Another Serbian organization is the Центар за истраживање Православнога Монархизма (CZIPM) or Center for Research of Orthodox Monarchy (CROM). This society’s primary focus is the Orthodox royal families of the world, it conducts extensive research in the areas of heraldry, even for non-orthodox.


Greece has a heraldic society called the Εραλδική και Γενεαλογική Εταιρεία Ελλάδος or Heraldic & Genealogical Society of Greece. In existence for almost 50 years, it is the single most important organization of its type in Greece with the most significant contributions in the field.


Moving east, we land in Australia with the Australian Heraldry Society, formely named “Heraldry Australia”. The society promotes the study and proper use of heraldry in Australia. It also is actively supporting the creation of an Australian Heraldic Authority as Australian prospective armigers must currently apply for arms with the College of Arms in England.


Across from Australia, we find the New Zealand Heraldry Society with a well staffed group that is truly dedicated to heraldry in that country. Though originally an offshoot of the Heraldry Society of England, it is now completely independent.


Arriving in the Americas, we start with the Royal Heraldry Society of Canada (RHSC). Founded in 1966, the RHSC’s objective is to promote the art and science of heraldry in general and Canadian heraldry in particular. It also to aims to encourage an interest in the subject among Canadians, wherever they may be. The society was instrumental in the establishment of a Canadian Heraldic Authority and has a very substantive education program with multiple levels of proficiency.


Founded in 1983 in New York, the College of Arms Foundation (COAF) started out with the goal of raising funds for the College of Arms in England to help renovate the College’s 17th century building. In 2001, the COAF changed its focus and started to promote English heraldry in the United States. It is registered with the IRS as a non profit organization.


The American Heraldry Society (AHS) is a wholly American society focusing on heraldry in the United States. Though it has members from around the world, the main area of interest in the unique heraldic landscape of the United States where the heraldic traditions of the old world meet and intermingle. The AHS has a very active membership that participate in the society’s online forum. Also of note, is the extensive and well written series on the heraldry of US Presidents.


Finally, we have the International Association of Amateur Heralds (IAAH), a wholly virtual society with an online presence only. Through the IAAH’s forum, heraldic enthusiasts from around the world can come together to discuss and learn about heraldry. Also, the IAAH provides a service to would-be armigers by designing new coats of arms for whomever requests it, free of charge.