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Heraldic Visitations

Nature of Source

Records from the Heralds who travelled the country validating those that claimed the right to bear arms (armigers) by investigating their pedigrees. The Lyon Court in Scotland was established in 1318 and The College of Heralds in England in 1484 to create rules concerning the displaying and inheritance of arms and the registration of arms. Professionals known as Heralds officially known as Herald of Arms carried out this function. Their work, began in the reign of Henry VIII, represented the first time the authorities had attempted to regulate the right to bear arms. The Heralds used a variety of sources to validate a claim including parish registers and wills. No visitations were made in Scotland.

The Heralds produced a vast amount of pedigrees and family trees, many of questionable accuracy as well as notes and other comments. Many of the pedigrees date back many years before the date of investigation. The entire collection of pedigrees is housed at the College of Arms. The original evidence material, known as the Harleian Manuscripts, is housed at the British Library with some material available at County Record Offices. During the 19th century the Harleian Society transcribed and published many of the original manuscripts with some digitised volumes available at the Internet Archive and Google Books.

See also
Heraldic Coats of Arms & Seals
Heraldic Coats of Arms & Seals (Scotland)
Inquisitions Post Mortem
Pedigrees and Family Histories

Where Found

College of Arms (Pedigree collection)
British Library (Heraldry: Various manuscripts and documents and reference works including the Harleian Manuscripts)
Harleian Society (The society is best known for its transcriptions of heraldic visitations but is also involved with transcriptions of parish registers, marriage licenses, pedigrees and chancery proceedings. A number of the Harleian Society’s ‘out of copyright’ publications have been scanned and uploaded onto The Internet Archive. See the society’s list for available online volumes)
Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies
Society of Genealogists (Harleian Society volumes and other county coverage)
County Record Offices (Printed volumes and original manuscripts)

Period Covered

1530 - 1686

Genealogical Value

Pedigrees and other material giving names, land owned, address, family relationships, birth, marriage and death dates.

Further References

Adolph, Anthony. Tracing Your Aristocratic Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians: Pen & Sword Books, 2013

Catalogue of the Heralds' Visitations. With References to many other Valuable Genealogical and Topographical Manuscripts in the British Museum: London, 1825 (Available to download from Archive CD Books or the Internet Archive)

Friar, Stephen. Heraldry for the Local Historian and Genealogist: Sutton, 1996

Goldstraw, Martin. Cheshire Heraldry: The Visitations of 1533 to 1580: The Armorial Register, 2011

Humphrey-Smith, Cecil. Armigerous Ancestors: Family History Books, 1997

Oates, Jonathan. Tracing Your Ancestors from 1066 to 1837: Pen and Sword Books, 2012

Squibb, George Drewry. Visitation Pedigrees and the Genealogist: Pinhorns, 1978
Swinnerton, Iain. Basic Facts about Heraldry for Family Historians: Federation of Family History Societies, 1995

Volumes of digitised Visitations can be found at the Internet Archive and Google Books.

Websites  (Links to companies and organisations selling genealogy products including Heralds Visitations)
(LostCousins newsletter 10th February 2017: The Heraldic Visitations and their value to genealogists) (Medieval source material on the internet: Heralds' Visitations and the College of Arms: Links to sites offering online access to Visitation records) (Heralds' Visitations of England, by Sherry Irvine) (Illustrations of the armorial bearings recorded at the Heralds' Visitations of Cheshire) (Wikipedia article: Heraldic visitation) (Heraldic Visitations of Britain, by Darlene Vaillancourt) (Heraldic Visitations of England and Wales) (The Law of Arms in Mediaeval England, by Dom Pedro de Alcazar)

Online Databases (Visitations records are currently available for individual counties and the whole of England and Wales, with years ranging from 1530-1921) (Stories, Memories & Histories: Visitation of Dorset, 1623; England and Wales Visitation, Volume I, III-XIV; Ireland Visitation; Visitation of London, 1633-1635; Devon Visitation, 1620; Visitation of Worcester, 1569; Visitations of Norfolk, 1563 and 1613; Nottinghamshire Visitations, 1569 and 1614; Visitations of Bedfordshire, 1566, 1582, and 1634; Oxfordshire Visitations, 1566, 1574, and 1634; Somerset Visitations, 1623; Visitations of Hertfordshire, 1572 and 1634; Lancashire Visitations, 1567; Warwickshire Visitations, 1619; Pedigrees Recorded in the Visitations of the County of Durham, 1575 1615 & 1666; Cumberland Visitations, 1615) (UK Genealogy Archives: Online volumes of visitations covering English counties. Searches of pedigrees can be made by pedigree name) (Online access to cases heard at The Court of Chivalry, 1634-1640) (Herald's Visitations transcriptions of Devon, Dorset, Cornwall, Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. County Visitations are available to browse online arranged county-by-county)
(Britain, Knights Of The Realm & Commonwealth Index. The Knights of the Realm index records the details of over 35,000 individuals who were awarded an order of chivalry by a British monarch. The index was created by Colin J Parry over a 40 year period) (The Peerage: Place index and surname index containing information on European royal families and on the British Peerage compiled by Darryl Lundy)
(Britain, Knights of The Realm & Commonwealth Index. The Index is comprised of individual transcripts that list a recipient's name, birth year, death year, the type of order of chivalry and the date they received it) (FamilySearch Community Trees: Pedigrees and family names extracted from a variety of sources including the Visitation of Norfolk, 1562; Visitations of Bedfordshire, 1566, 1582 and 1634; Visitation of Gloucester, 1569, 1582-3, 1623; Visitation of London, 1633, 1634 and 1635; Visitation of London, 1664; Visitation of Surrey; Visitation of Yorkshire, 1563-1564) (Family History Books: Searchable collection of more than 40,000 digitized genealogy and family history publications. The collection includes heraldic visitations, Phillimore parish register indexes, school registers, Phillimore calendars of wills, family histories, county and local histories, genealogy magazines and how-to books, gazetteers, medieval histories and pedigrees)

CD Roms

The Harleian Society
Archive CD Books (Extensive county coverage, see website for full details. Publications include the 58 CD set ‘The Visitations of the Heralds County: Visitations of the Heralds in the 1500s And 1600s’)
West Country Books
(The Visitation Of Cornwall 1620)
S & N Genealogy Supplies (Most counties covered. Data CDs include ‘Visitation of England and Wales Volume 1 to 21, 1893-1921’)
UK Genealogy Archives (Heralds Visitations)
Anguline Research Archives (Dugdale's Visitation of Yorkshire, Tonge's Visitations of Northern Counties) (Scanned historical and genealogical county book collections on DVD including parish registers, marriage allegations/licenses, directories, paupers in workhouses in 1861, lists of emigrants from England to the USA and Caribbean 1773-76, visitations, poll books. See web site for county coverage and source material)