How Family Crests Work

How to Find Your Family Crest

If you're at least curious about (if not completely intrigued with) genealogy, you may want to know how to find your family crest -- even just for fun. There's a bona fide registry of family crests in the United States, the United Kingdom and Scotland. Not only do these groups preserve databases of registered family crests, they can also offer guidance into researching ancestral arms.

According to the American Heraldry Society, you have to conduct objective genealogical research in order to determine if you have rights to an existing crest [source: American Heraldry Society]. You'll literally have to backtrack to find out if you do. Here's why: Family crests follow the male lineage in most heraldic traditions. That means if you're a male, you would need to prove and document who your father is and whether you have rights to his crest. Then, you would step back one generation and repeat the process. Prove and document who your father's father is and whether he passed on his family crest to your father. Theoretically, you keep repeating the process as far back as you can or care to.

Keep in mind that each country has slightly different guidelines and laws to determine whether someone is entitled to a certain family crest. What's more, some sources estimate that over time, people have designed millions of distinct crests. This means that if you find your family's crest, you may not have a legal right to use it as your own. It also means that you could be weeding through crests for years before you find the one that's authentic.