Rietstap's Armorial General
Riestap's Armorial General is a huge collection of family crests gathered from
numerous smaller armorials and all put in one multi volume armorial. There are 130,000 or so European names listed
along with a description of each names family crest. Sometimes you will also find the nationality of the owner, his
title, if any, and the date of the grant. You probably don't really care about anything else.
This is a good place to start looking for a family crest for your name. And there
are a few places you can find Rietstap"s Armorial General on the web.
The first one requires a paid subscription. It's Called Blazon Search and can be
You can use it though, without paying, to see if a name is even included in
Rietstap. It will also show the first 25% of the blazon.
The second place I found is Euraldic.com. Here it's totally free.
So, let's say the name you are looking for is Mac Donnell. And I see that there
are three listed in Rietstap. You will be able to take your pick. This is great, right?
Well, it is if you can read French and are familiar with
heraldic terminology and the archaic rules of blazon because the descriptions are all in French in Rietstap
and follow the customary rules of heraldic blazon which are not simple for the uninitiated to understand. Also,
there are no illustrations.
Here's the description of the first Mac Donnell listed:
Écartelé: au 1, d'or, au lion de gueules, armé et lampassé d'azur; au 2, d'or,
à un senestrochère, paré d'argent, sortant d'une nuée au naturel, mouvant du flanc, la main de carnation tenant une
croix tréflée au pied fiché d'azur; au 3, d'argent, à une galère de sable; au 4, d'azur, à un dauphin d'argent, la
queue en haut. Supports: deux lions d'or, armés et lampassés de gueules.
There you go. This is a Mac Donnell family crest as listed in Rietstap's Armorial
General. But this is no good unless you know how to read the description.
Don't despair. Somebody actually took the time to create illustrations for all the
family crests in Rietstap.
Rolland, V. and H. V. ILLUSTRATIONS TO THE ARMORIAL GENERAL by
J. B. Rietstap.
Here's a snap I took of the Mac Donnell image from
That's a little bit better but the images are tiny, in black and white and no
color unless you know how to "trick" a family crest. Tricking is a method of indicating the colors in a black and
white illustration. For example, the dots mean gold or Or and horizontal lines mean blue or Azure.
So there you have it. You can check Rietstap and the illustrations from Rolland to
see if there is a coat of arms associated with your name, or anyone's name for that matter. You can also use it to
check the accuracy of a family crest you might purchase from a commercial vendor.
By the way, both Rietstap's Armorial General and Rolland's Illustrations are found
in many public libraries.
I just found this wonderful source for color illustrations of the coats of arms in
This is a commercial site and you cannot
download the illustrations without having a watermark on them but it's a great way to take a look at family
crests used by someone with your surname in the past.
If they have your name, they offer a mug, mousepad and what looks like a print of
the family crest. The prices look reasonable and I really like the antique look! Plus they come right from the
source so they are heraldically accurate.
They have 120,000 or so family crests from France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany,
Spain, Italy, Poland and more.
The site is located at http://www.notrefamille.com/v2/services-blasons/default.asp