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22 May 2009

The Great Lecture You Probably Missed

Laura Spurrier sent this report on the CGS May Membership Meeting with Jim Terzian:

CGS recently hosted a great speaker on heraldry, Jim Terzian. I almost missed the lecture myself, afraid it would be too stuffy. The opposite was true: Jim turned out to be delightful and not a snob at all. (He’s secretary-treasurer of a society called Descendants of the Illegitimate Sons and Daughters of the Kings of Britain, AKA the “royal bastards.”)

Jim started by explaining how coats of arms began as a means of displaying a person’s status and prestige in mostly illiterate medieval society. They continue in use to this day; the Great Seal of the United States is a heraldic seal. Many of our ancestors may have had coats of arms. Only in the British Isles are they restricted to members of the nobility. They are also hereditary, fathers to sons or in some cases to daughters. The fact that a family with the same name as yours has a coat of arms doesn’t mean you can automatically claim it too.

Jim Terzian taking questions before showing his chart.

For genealogists, coats of arms are a form of visual documentation of family trees. For example, if a man with a coat of arms marries a woman with arms in her own right, their sons bear arms showing half of each. All the little add-ons on either side of a shield have significance too. Jim demonstrated how this works by unrolling a gorgeously colored 44” x 22’ chart of all the arms of one of his ancestors, arranged in family tree form. I was thrilled when I realized that she was my ancestor too.

Jim Terzian unrolled his 22 foot chart for all to see.

Detail of the chart.

Photographs courtesy of Tim Cox, Oakland, California, 5/9/2009.