Heraldry is defined as the art of blazoning, assigning and marshaling a coat of arms. Some scholars believe the idea of having a coat of arms came out of the Holy Wars when banners bearing the cross, chivalrous actions, and the age of Feudalism began. The first shields show up between 1135 and 1155 AD. The practice of placing a coat of arms on one's shield grew in popularity with tournaments in which they were displayed around the mid-eighteenth century.
For those who wish to explore further whether your family has a coat of arms, you can look up any country's recorded arms in a book called "armories." A common armory book was compiled by Rietstap in the late 1800s; but armory books are known be incomplete and contain errors. At present there are no comprehensive web sites with armory information. In addition, genealogical research will be needed to verify any descending line.
A typical misconception is that these crests are awarded to a surname, when in actual fact it was customary to grant a coat of arms to an individual. Sometimes close relatives who were granted arms would have similar designs, but each was different. In fact when the person who was awarded a coat of arms died, his arms were often retired. Nonetheless, coat of arms were handed down from father to son.
But, be that as it may, one can always create a coat of arms for his or her family to adopt . An introduction of the parts of a coat of arms can be found at http:www.fleurdelis.com/coatofarms.htm There you will also see illustrations and definitions of the many symbols which adorn coats of arms.