The Family Crest

by Terry Hogan

A couple of hundred years ago, more or less, we fought the British and declared ourselves free. We set up a democracy. We elected our leaders. We did away with landed gentry. There would be no landed aristocracy. No titles of "Baron", "Lord" or "Your Majesty" would be entertained on these soils. We were to be created equal. Each to do as his abilities and work allowed, assuming, of course, you were "white" and male.

But we still seem to stand in awe of the British royalty. Who among the genealogist army haven't contemplated the royal throne and wondered if they're not relatives. The reality of it all, is that the chance is somewhere between slim and none. If you were royalty kin, why would you travel to the colonies? The colonists were the "nothing to loose" crowd. Life couldn't get much worse. The colonies offered opportunities.

But nevertheless, the Brits and others do a booming business on the family crest. Even if you can't be a monarch, if your name sounds English, Irish, or Scottish, get in line with credit card number handy. You too can have your colorful family crest framed for hanging; on a sweatshirt, or on a coffee mug.

We are a sorry lot. Why do we feel so inferior that we must compensate for our humble origins by plastering a generic surname family crest on the wall, or on the mug? It is a shameful thing. Most of these crests are adorned with knights, or lions, spears and shields denoting bravery, duty, and the like. I have seen very few that do not.

It must be a humble family to have a largely unadorned family crest. Can you imagine the disappointment when the family crest arrives? Images of shields and knights just leaking testosterone come to mind as the box is unwrapped. But no, there are no knights. There are no shields. There is no chain mace. There is no testosterone, leaking or otherwise. Instead there is only a shield, yellow and black, with three black circles across the yellow portion of the shield.

Why yellow? Is this significant? Did the family "turn tail" at the first hint of battle?

Why black? Is it a black-hearted family? Black often represented evil.

Why yellow? Cowardliness?

Why three rings? Why not four? Why not two? Three rings - like in the circus. Were they a family of clowns? Dang!

It is a plain, but foreboding family crest.

But maybe it represents sly knights, in camouflage, fighting at night; setting new standards in warfare. Perhaps their motto, now lost, was "good knights in good nights." No, probably not.

It is a sad set of Irishmen who can do no better than a family crest of yellow and black and three spindly little circles. Perhaps they had run out of drink and gone into an Irish funk by the time they got to this family crest? Perhaps the Irish had intermarried with the Swedes and the Irish-Swede family said, "Ya, It's OK, Anything will do. Don't go to any trouble over us." And the Irish family crest makers didn't. They took the Irish-Swedes at their word.

Can you imagine these Irish-Swedes, these Catholics-Lutherans receiving the family crest? Would they have gone home and drank a whiskey or a black coffee? Would they have wondered why the family crest makers didn't ignore the protests and redouble their efforts for these noble, but humble Irish-Swedes? Didn’t they understand that there protestations were only an effort to be polite?

Whatever they did, or didn't do, it now rests with the family's descendants to deal with this family crest. It is the ugly duckling of the family crests, with little hope of turning into a swan.