One element of documenting family history is to place the lives of ancestors in the context of their place and time.

Many of the places we study have their own history, evolving from farming villages to manufacturing centres to dormitory suburbs (for example). That history is documented in many different forms, included the design of armorial bearings. The images selected to represent the area can provide important insights into its nature and history.

All kinds of entities can possess (so-called) coats-of-arms -- people, families, organizations and municipalities (towns and other levels of government). I am referring to the designs usually depicted on a shield or a flag, NOT the more elaborate presentations used as seals on documents.

Typically, there are restrictions on the use of arms, which may be outlined in the grant document. We normally hear about people who use individual coats-of-arms as if they were family coats-of-arms, without authorization. And organizations will protect trademarks.

A town (or similar body) may not only display its arms on its official buildings, but also mould them into street furniture and even print them on bus tickets. You can also see the use of municipal shields and flags in a lot of non-official settings.

Who has a "right" to display images of these? Is residence (current or former) in the area a sufficient reason? What are the other restrictions on the use of municipal coats-of-arms? It seems that municipal coats-of-arms treated differently to individual/family coats-of-arms. Why?

  • 1
    This is very close to being off-topic.
    – user104
    Mar 7 '13 at 16:42
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    @ColeValleyGirl - Why close to off-topic? (in case of future questions). As genealogists, we often use municipal images to illustrate our ancestors' connections to places.
    – bgwiehle
    Mar 7 '13 at 17:26
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    It's off-topic (by reference to the faq). We could use pictures of lots of things to illustrate our family histories, but that wouldn't make the subject of those pictures on-topic.
    – user104
    Mar 7 '13 at 17:29
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    I think off-topic for reasons @ColeValleyGirl gives - perhaps try explaining the connection you see to Genealogy & Family History beyond using municipal images to illustrate our ancestors' connections to places (which I wish sites like Ancestry.com would offer better way to do).
    – PolyGeo
    Mar 8 '13 at 2:08
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    I have edited the question to overcome some of the reservations expressed in the comments. Feel free to roll back to your original if this does not reflect your intention.
    – Fortiter
    Mar 9 '13 at 1:06

Without examples, it's not possible to get very far. However, I can make several suggestions:

  • If the council in question sees no "street-cred" in enforcing its own rights, then nothing's going to happen.
  • The municipal bodies are among the offenders (allegedly). See this case where Deal Town Council decided they could use arms granted to Deal Borough Council despite there being 22y between the end of Deal Borough and the start of Deal Town Council. Plus the geographic areas were substantially different by the later exclusion of Walmer - i.e. it's not a successor body.
  • Companies protect their trade marks. People understand this. People don't have the same understanding of armorial disputes. The mayor in the case above refers to "heraldry gone mad" - we can be certain she'd soon be complaining else if someone was going around pretending to be the Mayor of Deal. Equally if a town acts over a misuse of its arms, the local papers will probably see it as a misuse of money. They'll see no inconsistency in complaining about the council not taking action over people selling fake designer goods in the market.
  • If no-one complains, nothing will happen. Most people simply think "We live here, why can't we or they use the logo?" I imagine that the College of Arms only intervened in the Deal case because someone asks them.

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