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.......Heraldic “Gateways” .......

Perhaps the first heraldry lesson learned by the tyro family historian is that, despite the claims of the shopping mall “heraldic boutiques” and the Internet bucket shops, the offers to sell “Your Family Coat of Arms” are usually fraudulent. Unfortunately, unnecessarily and wrongly the newcomer to genealogy tends then to lose interest in heraldry. There are two reasons why this should not be so.

The first is that heraldry is a source of clues that becomes especially valuable as the researcher digs backwards into history and the availability of documentary evidence diminishes. Readers will have seen one example of this in the notes we published on the possible origins of the Lyon family earlier this year.

The second is that arms are uniquely valuable as a theme for the decoration of genealogical charts. Of course, no one wishes to introduce heraldry that has no connection with the families featured, or to claim rights to the arms of someone else, but there can be no objection at all to including the arms of appropriate clan chiefs, or clan badges, or, most importantly, the arms of the distaff side.

We all have only four grandparents, but if we take our inverted pyramid back ten generations we find the top line has 1,024 names (although, naturally, some may appear more than once). If we go back twenty generations, say 500 years, there are over a million names on the top line. Many of these were of armigers, and if a researcher finds only a few of them there will be sufficient to decorate his family tree attractively.

Ancestor hunters usually begin by concentrating on the “y-chromosome”, the paternal line of father to father to father, the line usually of the surname, but in many families the distaff side will ultimately be far more interesting. The families into which the paternal side has married may include “gateway ancestors” who, once found, will provide access to family links that are already well-researched. These “gateways” can be of huge importance heraldically.

Let us take as an example of what is possible the ancestry of a British actress, Ann Todd, whose middle-class parents were not armigerous, and who, prior to her marriage into an old Scots family, the Malcolms of Poltalloch, gave little thought to the arms of her own forebears. Let us take especial note of the importance of the “gateways” on the distaff side of her family tree as represented in the pages of a forthcoming book and reproduced here.

This production of these notes on Ann Todd’s ancestry is part of our examination into the advantages the portable document format (PDF) might offer our readers. We have found that the graphics often do not equal in quality those on our HTML pages and, surprisingly, that the quality of the graphics in the originating program, Adobe Acrobat, diminishes significantly when they are viewed with the Acrobat Reader program. We are hoping that Adobe will have a cure for this.

Readers will find that when they move the mouse onto the small shields, the name of the arms will appear after a pause of a few seconds, and a much larger picture of the arms will pop up on the right hand side of the page.

Readers who do not have the free Acrobat Reader program may download it from the Adobe website. This will install a plug-in for their browser, so that the PDF pages will be viewed within a browser window (currently the system which gives the best quality for the PDF graphics). Some monitor screens will benefit if the browser’s toolbar and address window are hidden to provide more space for the PDF page. The PDF pages will appear faster if Acrobat Reader is already running in the background and has loaded the PDF viewer plug-in.

Heraldic “gateways” in Ann Todd’s ancestry
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© 2002 The Baronage Press and Pegasus Associates Ltd