Sunday, July 29, 2012

Some Ancestral Heraldry

"In green a silver swan with a red bill and black spots and a red neckband; and in a blue shield two golden stars next to each other. Helmet: the head with neck and breast of the swan with the neckband."

This is one of the Daams coats of arms described by an archivist in a letter to Mom's cousin Jasper in the red notebook. The archivist, who signs himself as Dr. A.R. Kleijn, goes on to describe two other Daams coats of arms which date back to the 16th century. Although he notes that it is not possible to be certain, the coat of arms described above is the one most likely to be related to Mom's family.

A Daams Coat of Arms
But wait! That is not the one painted for our family 50 years ago. There is another coat of arms described by Dr. Kleijn: "In silver, a red crossbeam, on the right side of a black anchor; and on the left side of a green bird with a leafy branch in its beak."

This is the image that I recall from my childhood, when the watercolor hung in an upstairs room in the house where I grew up.

Dr. Kleijn's research came from a manuscript entitled, "Wapenboek van de Gelders-Overijsselse Studentenbond" ["Armorial of the Student Union of Gelder-Overijssel"], which lists the first coat of arms described above as that of a Henricus Daems, from Deventer in the Netherlands, living in Leiden in 1656 as a student. The researcher found the design depicted in the painting in a quarter-chart in the records of the Museum of Leiden.

You may wonder how a mere student came to have a coat of arms. In the late Middle Ages in the Netherlands, coats of arms were apparently not controlled by any official heraldic system as they were in England, nor were they used exclusively by the nobility. Anyone could design and use a coat of arms, and thus many burgers or merchants had coats of arms, although they were not members of the nobility.

On the other side of the family, the Van Slyke coat of arms has been described as portraying "a clover leaf on one side of a battlement, three fish natant [i.e., swimming] on the other side." This example of heraldry apparently dates from the 14th century. This was also painted for us by a family friend many years ago:

Van Slyke Coat of Arms

It's probably impossible to determine so many centuries later which is the "correct" coat of arms for our ancestry. Interesting to speculate, but does it really matter in today's digital age?

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There is of course a whole science and art of heraldry, dating back to the Middle Ages, in which I claim no particular expertise. Those who wish to explore some additional examples of medieval Dutch heraldry may be interested to take a look at the digitized manuscript of the Wapenboek Beyeren, which dates from around 1405, at the link noted below.


"Dutch Heraldry,"; accessed 7/28/2012.

Hudson-Mohawk Genealogical and Family Memoirs: Van Slyke;; accessed 7/28/2012.

Wapenboek Beyeren;; accessed 7/29/2012.

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