Armorial Bearings granted to Robert Lord alias Laward of London in 1510; College of Arms MS L10 folio 105b; copyright of the College of Arms, London. Used by permission.

The Archeological Approach

Will of Dorothy Lord.


The 1669 Will of Dorothy Lord, Hartford Archives.


Without clear evidence regarding the assignment of arms to a particular family or individual, we have no way, in retrospect, to know if one version of the arms or another is appropriately associated with that family. All we have is the similarity of sirname.

Similar remarks apply to the use of heraldic objects which may be thought to point towards ancestral origins, by being in the home, perhaps by inheritance from previous generations.
Great-grandfather may indeed have received the heraldic signet ring from his forebears, but he could, equally, have bought it in a second-hand jewellery shop. A common source of confusion is provided by the heraldic painting or carving which may occupy pride of place in the hall or sitting room. Often the family surname is included below, or in place of, the motto. The item may indeed show the arms which belong to you or to an ancestor, but equally may have been purchased from a firm which supplied paintings of arms to go with a surname without implying any genealogical relationship. Such firms are in business today and were known even in the seventeenth century. No heraldic claim was ever intended, and the article was simply for decoration. The problems arise when the source of the item has been forgotten and the assumption made that the arms displayed belong to that family of the same name.
Stephen Friar, A Dictionary of Heraldry, 1987.

This is why the "archeological" approach is essential here. We have to confirm the appropriate arms by virtue of their actual use by an identified member of the lineage. Then, to the extent to which one can associate themselves with that particular branch of the family, one can claim these arms as their own, at least from an historical perspective, if not technically from an armorial one.

The artifact which is repeatedly cited by 19th century writers as "proof" of the correct arms of Thomas Lord of Hartford is the wax seal affixed to the Will of his wife Dorothy in 1669. This seal, it is claimed, carries the arms exactly as first illustrated in the Heraldic Journal of 1866 and described as "Laward, alias Lord."

The Lord Arms according to E.E. Salisbury, 1892. The author of that text was the first to admit: "The seal is too small, and the impression not sufficiently distinct to permit the crest to be clearly made out." This did not apparently prevent Salisbury, in 1892, to assume the crest to be, in fact, the demi-bird he illustrated (right). He states, in 1892: "...the seal which Dorothy Lord affixed to it, showing the coat of arms given at the head of this monograph, which doubtless had been her husband's - the bearing corresponding exactly with those of Laward alias Lord..."

With our attention focused on the seal, we begin to see the role and value of the archeological research techniques, applied even to a "site" so tiny it would rest on a thumbnail with room to spare.

This archeological study required a wintery trip to Hartford to see firsthand the artifacts referred to by these several 19th century writers. It was during this expedition that I was able to dispense with another piece of archeological data, first cited by Salisbury in his 1892 work. He states: "a monument erected to the memory of the first proprietors of Hartford bears his name (Thomas Lord) and his tombstone near it is inscribed with the Coat of Arms as above; both will be found in the old cemetery of the Centre Church in Hartford."

The Thomas Lord tombstone.

It was not hard to locate the church and the burial ground beside it, with all the atmosphere of an ancient cemetery in New England. The stone was indeed located and the coat of arms, although very damaged and worn, did appear to have a demi-bird in the crest, just as illustrated by Salisbury. Yet in venturing around to the back of the stone, another inscription was found:

Erected by
Mrs. Susie Heal- ----
1897

The date is problematic, as it falls 5 years after Salisbury mentioned seeing it. But there is no evidence of any other tombstone in the burial ground and church records do not record any earlier marker.

But where this rough and weathered stone had failed, it was expected the wax seal on Dorothy Lord's 1669 Will would surely provide the detail expressed in the engravings of Bishop and Salisbury. My first examination of the seal was in 1989, 320 years to the day after the impression was made in 1669.

My initial reaction on viewing the ancient document (top of the page) was one of extreme disappointment. Having seen the rendering published by Salisbury and supposedly based on this very seal, I had expected a clear and detailed image captured in glistening wax. Instead I saw a small, flat, seemingly featureless flake of wax, severely broken and obviously missing a significant portion of its original form. There also appeared to be a number of raised bumps - droplets of wax it was thought - apparently unrelated to the signet ring impression.

But on more intensive examination it was discovered that there was, in fact, a great deal of detail preserved in the impression. Though very damaged, areas of the wax where design features were missing were, by some stroke of luck, supplemented by other areas of the seal more intact. Almost without exception, whenever a piece of the embossing was missing from one side of the design, it remained on the opposite side, and vice versa. For although we cannot assume the design was perfectly symmetrical, most arms are largely so.

In analyzing the "micro-topography" of this 320 year old seal, I approached the investigation as I would an archeological site; first mapping the surface features, then recording each strata, noting intrusive "disturbance" or damage that produced loss of portions of the original deposits, and finally reconstructing the site by filling in missing pieces. The artifact was found to have several distinct strata, or layers. Each layer had its own age - the deepest being the oldest.

The micro-topography of the Lord seal.

On the bottom level was the ancient paper [I] on which the Will had been written in 1669. Immediately above that was a thin layer of wax [II] laid on hot to stick down the flap of the folded document. On top of that was a fragment [III] of that paper flap, left when the document was torn open after Dorothy's death. Above that was the relatively thick deposit [IV] of red sealing wax, fractured and chipped in places where none of the original surface remained. And finally, on the top, the intact surface [V] produced at that last moment when the engraved signet ring was pressed into the blob of warm, soft wax.

The damaged seal redrawn.

After another trip to the Connecticut Archives and some concentrated effort, a rendering of the impression was made. The arms appeared to match almost exactly Salisbury's drawing. Minor details in the seal that are not reflected in the coats of arms illustrated in Salisbury and Bishop include the initials "R" and "L" flanking the crest, what appears to be a rudimentary helmet below the crest, and a shield shape that has square corners at the top, not chamfered as in the engravings. These arms correspond precisely to those given as "Laward alias Lord" and illustrated in Salisbury.

The crest, however, although similar to the demi-bird "seen" in the wax by Salisbury and to be expected from the published heraldic literature, did not seem to be present. Much of the wax on which the crest had been impressed was broken and missing and only portions of the animal or object which was once exhibited there could be seen.

Subsequently it was found that Kenneth Lord, in completing research for his 1946 book, Genealogy of the Descendants of Thomas Lord, observed the same inconsistency. The frontispiece of his publication exhibits a coat of arms which he commissioned to be drawn after his research, portraying a "demi-hind" in the crest.

Kenneth Lord's rendering of the Hartford seal. (Click on image for enlargement.)

The will of Dorothy Lord (widow of Thomas Lord, a founder of Hartford, Conn., in 1636), dated February 8, 1669, is in the possession of the Connecticut State Library at Hartford, Conn., in the Probate Division, and is sealed with a coat of arms and crest. The coat of arms is the same as that of Laward, alias Lord, described above, and, while the seal is somewhat chipped, it can be discerned that in the crest there is not a demi-bird, but apparently a demi-hind issuant.

Kenneth Lord, 1946.

While Lord suggests the seal of Dorothy Lord shows this "demi-hind," and while elements of the crest preserved in the seal certainly support the supposition, it appears Lord's hypothesis was probably based on two other proofs; one documentary, the other archeological.

The documentary proof is in the 1932 New England Genealogical Register, where is recorded "A Second Roll of Arms Registered by the Committee on Heraldry of the New England Historic Genealogical Society." Under Item 159, Thomas Lord's coat of arms and crest are described, as follows:

Arms: Silver a fess gules between three cinqfoils azure on the fess a hind passant between two pheons gold.
Crest: A demi-bird sable on the head two small horns gold the wings expanded, the dexter gules lined gold the sinister gold lined gules. (Burke).
[The family in Connecticut have used a demi-hind issuant (?silver).]

It is not at all clear where the data on the crest supplied by this entry originated, perhaps from an earlier examination of the same seal before it was so damaged. But it does clearly suggest that the "demi-hind" crest is an American variant of the English coat of arms.


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