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Given that the Geneology site is so new (still in beta), I was hoping as a community we could decide whether or not general questions about heraldry (regarding coats of arms) are on topic for this site. For instance, my own recent question: Coat of arms: can a charge be placed over a variation of the field?

There seems to be some disagreement, at least amongst the commentators on that question, as to whether or not this question is on topic. Quoting lejonet8:

As an auxiliary sciences of history, heraldry is an essential part of (European) genealogy.

Others have argued that the question is off topic because it has no specific relevance to family history.

I would argue in favor of including general question about heraldry as on-topic for this site for the following reasons:

1. Useful for genealogical research

A coat of arms has often been passed down from father to son, making it a valuable resource for genealogical investigation. Quoting from this page, (under "What to look for")

Arms traditionally descend unchanged through the male line to the eldest son. This makes it easy to trace the male line [...]

And from here:

To marshal two or more coats of arms is to combine them in one shield, to express inheritance, claims to property, or the occupation of an office.

Which is to say that a coat of arms can actually show the union of two families as well, particularly when a man married an heiress, he may marshal his coat of arms with that of her father.

Further more, as described here, the use of cadency (addition of a specific charge to an existing coat of arms) can signify specifically which son a coat of arms originates with.

2. Recognizing bogus coats of arms

Anyone of European descent who has done much research on their family history has no doubt encountered offers have their "genuine family coat of arms" rendered and sent to them for a nominal fee. The vast majority of these are scams, especially considering the fact that most families not of noble or wealthy origin will not have coat of arms. Understanding and being able to ask questions about the rules of heraldry can help someone identify a bogus coat of arms.

3. Family legacy

When considering family history and genealogy, we should also consider family legacy, i.e., the future history of our families. Someone without a coat of arms may wish to develop and adopt one for themselves, and to pass it down through their family. This site seems like a natural place to go for such individuals.

Update

To address some of the concerns expressed about designing your own coat of arms: I've been getting more involved in heraldry as of late and it turns out that in all but a few jurisdictions (namely Scotland, and to a lesser extent, England Wales and Northern Ireland), designing and adopting your own coat of arms is perfectly legitimate and common. There are even a number of heraldic organizations with which you can register your design. The important thing from a heraldry standpoint is simply that it follows good design practices and that it is unique to you; it doesn't matter whether or not is was created in the middle ages, or passed down through generations, or designed by an authoritative body.

4. Related

This does not have to apply just to coats of arms, but related matters like clan tartans of Scotland, Japanese mon, and any other methods used to identify family lineage or association.

5. Low Impact

Inclusion of heraldry and related topics is not likely to have a major impact on the site as they will likely generate a rather low volume of traffic. However, this is by far the most relevant site on Stack Exchange for their discussion and, since they are likely to be such low traffic, it is not likely that a more specific site would be successful.

Conclusion

So that's my two cents on the matter. I hope the community will weight in and we can reach a consensus on whether or not such discussions should be considered on topic or not.

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  • For the record, we're 10 months old. 2yrs 11 months seems to be the longest any other existing site has been in beta, and there are 14 sites younger than we are. – user104 Aug 20 '13 at 17:03
  • Eh, that's kind of subjective. 10 months is pretty new compared to sites like StackOverflow or Math or Physics. What isn't subjective is that this site is still in beta, and it only has 617 questions, so personally I think there's still a lot of room for refining the definition. Wether that definition includes general heraldic questions or not remains to be seen. – brianmearns Aug 20 '13 at 17:08
  • I was just providing objective data, and I don't have a problem discussing scope (as you'll see if you look at the scope tag on meta). I also created the tag for heraldry. – user104 Aug 20 '13 at 17:12
  • In your update about designing your own coat of arms can you clarify what you mean by Britain? Scotland may be voting on independence in the near future but it's currently part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and I don't think there's any intent to dig a huge trench and fill it with water to separate themselves from the island of Great Britain. I'm suspecting you mean England and Wales.Also, doesn't this update undermine your argument about bogus coats of arms? – user104 Aug 31 '13 at 10:45
  • No, I can't really clarify any further. Honestly, I've never fully grokked the distinctions between the UK, GB, Britain, etc. All I can tell you is that some jurisdictions in the British Isles have maintained the tradition of official state-regulated heraldry, where as most of continental Europe and the US has left it unregulated, in which case it is governed only by tradition. So I'm not sure where precisely heraldry falls under legal jurisdiction of the state: if only there was a convenient community forum where we could ask such questions =). – brianmearns Sep 3 '13 at 12:22
  • I don't think you need a convenient community to grokk the distinction between UK, GB and Britain -- Google is your friend. – user104 Sep 3 '13 at 12:24
  • As regards the issue of bogus arms: this term frequently refers to the coats of arms sold in mail order catalogs and shopping malls based on your last name, without any regards to actual lineage. While not strictly illegal in most places, it is not valid in terms of heraldic tradition, as arms belong to an individual and are passed through a lineage, not to an entire family, and certainly not to anyone who happens to have the same last name. So it is valid to design and assume your own coat of arms, but it is not valid to assume the arms of another person: the latter is what makes it bogus. – brianmearns Sep 3 '13 at 12:27
  • I wasn't talking about a place to ask the distinction between ..., I was talking about a place to ask about the legal status of heraldry in a particular jurisdiction. – brianmearns Sep 3 '13 at 12:28
  • I've fixed your geography, on the assumption that you are talking about the jurisdiction of the College of Arms (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/College_of_Arms). – user104 Sep 3 '13 at 12:33
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We've previously discussed this briefly (as per the links in my comment to the question), and seemed to have reached a consensus that heraldry is not off-topic, but it isn't core material (hence it isn't mentioned in either on- or off-topic lists). However, not being off-topic won't magically make a heraldry question a good question -- it will just prevent it from being closed as off-topic.

My major concerns about heraldry questions are:

  1. a website for Genealogists and Family Historians is unlikely to attract experts in heraldry or to retain them, especially given that -- as you say -- heraldry questions will be low volume.
  2. the questions we've had on the topic so far have mostly been answered by reference to dictionaries, wikipedia, or use of Google to locate specialist heraldry websites. (This might just be a manifestation of the point above).

If we can't provide good answers, there's a question-mark in my mind about the value of such questions, and whether they dilute the overall value of the site. (I don't have an answer to this, just a niggling worry).

On your other points:

  • I think the stretch to tartans is a stretch too far. The association of specific tartans with named clans was a Victorian tourist scam and continues to be an excellent way to part the gullible from their money. I don't know enough about Japanese mon to comment, and suspect most of us are in the same boat.

  • I doubt that encouraging people to manufacture their own (bogus) coat of arms is a good use of the site -- the only helpful thing we should do is direct them to the relevant heraldic authorities for their jurisdiction, which would probably be another Google search.

  • I'm not swayed by the argument that this is the 'most relevant site for discussion [of heraldry]' on StackExchange. We're the most relevant site to discuss celebrity genealogy as well, but we don't do that -- not every topic needs to be discussable on SE.

In summary: I don't like heraldry questions unless they demonstrate their relevance to our core subject matter (Genealogy & Family History), but I don't think they should be explicitly off-topic. However, I don't support changing our on-topic wording to encourage them (especially as the list of on-topic items is as long as https://genealogy.stackexchange.com/about can deal with).

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  • All fair points. Just as a note, I wasn't necessarily saying that we should encourage people to create their own coats of arms, but that if they're going to, we could potentially be a reference point for them, even if the answer is "you probably shouldn't do this". – brianmearns Aug 20 '13 at 14:07
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    @ColeValleyGirl How would it help if the user gave us some context that is neither necessary to understand nor to answer the question, just to demonstrate the relevance to our core subject? I assume good faith when somebody asks a heraldry questions on a genealogy site: It might be helpful for his genealogy research. – lejonet Aug 20 '13 at 15:27
  • @lejonet8, When somebody says "I'm curious if traditional heraldry allows you to place a charge on top of a variation on the field", on the face of it, that's a heraldic design question, not a family history question. But perhaps there's an underlying context that says: One of my ancestors has this feature in their coat of arms, and I wonder if it means that it's a bogus coat of arms. And providing that context would be helpful, because the answer could then have a wider application, addressing how heraldry can and cannot be used to support genealogy and FH research. [contd.] – user104 Aug 20 '13 at 16:19
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    So I don't like the simple question that was answered by Wikipedia, but I'd have loved to see the more complex one. YMMV. (And just because I don't like a question doesn't mean it doesn't belong here, just that I'll downvote). – user104 Aug 20 '13 at 16:19
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    @ColeValleyGirl: You shouldn't down vote a question because you don't like it. You can down vote it if it's legitimately off-topic, or because it's a legitimately bad question (e.g., it's incomprehensible, the information they're looking for is unclear, or it demonstrates a lack of reasonable effort to find the answer themselves, which mine may have been guilty of). But unless you're trying to say "this question doesn't belong here", then a down vote is inappropriate. – brianmearns Aug 20 '13 at 17:12
  • @sh1ftst0rm If you hover over a downvote button on the main site you'll see 'not useful' as one of the reasons for downvoting (as are 'unclear' and 'no research effort'). Off-topic questions ('this question doesn't belong here') should be closed, not down-voted. I don't think pure heraldry questions are useful here, which is why I don't like them. In addition, many of the ones we've seen so far of them show no research effort. – user104 Aug 20 '13 at 17:13
  • @ColeValleyGirl: Perfect, if you don't think it's useful, then you don't think it belongs here, so downvote it. But when you say "just because I don't like a question doesn't mean it doesn't belong here, just that I'll downvote," it's pretty worrisome. – brianmearns Aug 20 '13 at 17:14
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    @sh1ftst0rm Worrisome? It would be worrisome if I was closing it with my moderator privilege. Voting is one of the key mechanisms here to separate good and less good questions - I'd be worried if nobody ever downvoted. But what I was trying to say with 'just because I don't like a question doesn't mean it doesn't belong here' is that mine is (and should be) only one vote/one voice unless a Q is egregiously off-topic/offensive/spam/lacks all detail needed to make a stab at an answer in which case I'll step in as a moderator and put it on hold (or delete it if necessary). I have done so 4 times. – user104 Aug 20 '13 at 17:20
  • @ColeValleyGirl: I suppose. I hadn't thought of it that way. – brianmearns Aug 20 '13 at 17:58

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