COATS of arms on old gravestones could hold the key to tracing ancestors, according to a north-east specialist.
Portsoy-based Charles Burnett gave a talk about heraldry at yesterday’s meeting of the Moray Burial Ground Research Group (MBGRG).
Mr Burnett is the Ross Herald Extraordinary, an officer of arms for the Court of the Lord Lyon. He specialises in heraldry – the coats of arms and crests of Scottish clans and families.
At his talk at Elgin Library yesterday, Mr Burnett said heraldry on Scottish gravestones is a key tool for people researching their family history.
He said: “Heraldry has been my main interest for a very long time. Graves with coats of arms, even if the name is unclear, can still be very useful. The coats of arms are still retraceable. It is important for people tracing their family history. They should be used as a research tool.”
Mr Burnett said if a person did not have a coat of arms, masons often carved “lookalike” emblems, with the initials and trades of the deceased on them. He said these were also very useful for families as they give an insight into the life of their ancestor.
Mr Burnett also showed examples of funeral hatchments, which were diamond-shaped boards which displayed the coat of arms. They were hung outside the front door of a house to let people know that someone had died. A second hatchment was hung over their grave.
Mr Burnett said he had seen a slight revival of this tradition in recent years.
He added: “The beauty of heraldry is that most coats of arms in Scotland have been recorded in public registers, making them easy to access.”
The MBGRG has been very active during the past year in its work to clear, clean and record inscriptions in graveyards in Moray. It has completed work at Rathven, Knockando and Elgin cemeteries. It also published several inscription books in 2010, focusing on the historic sites of St Peter’s at Duffus and Kinloss Abbey.