From 1530 to 1680, heraldic visitations were one of the primary means to record descents, marriages, and births, to confirm and grant arms, and to resolve uncertainties over arms. The formal nature of official visitations reflected the Crown's concern for maintaining records of the significant families in all parts of the kingdom. The two provincial Kings of Arms, Clarenceux and Norroy, or more typically, their deputies, carried out regular visitations of every county in their provinces.
Formal county-by-county visitations were instituted in 1530. Before that time, heralds collected regional genealogies in books such as this one (image top right), the earliest known copy of a regional collection of pedigrees for northern England, begun in the 1480s. The undulating lines, lack of dates, and many blank roundels, make it difficult to follow. In this opening, the Conyers pedigree from the previous opening comes to a conclusion, and the Aske pedigree begins. The limitations of the book format for lengthy family trees is obvious - the lines of descent would be much easier to read if they were set out on a long scroll.
Visitations were a lucrative business for the heralds, who collected a fee for every registration. This is a rare example of a surviving receipt from a visitation (image second right), signed by Thomas May, Chester Herald, and Gregory King, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant. It records the Mayor of Warwick's payment of thirty shillings for the registration of the arms of the Corporation of Warwick during the 1682 visitation of Warwickshire. Towns as well as individuals were required to show their right to arms, even if their usage had been continuous for three or four hundred years.
This 1619 visitation record of Warwickshire (image third right), made by a professional scribe, is in a more typical format, with rectilinear tabular pedigrees. The opening shows the genealogy of the Lucy family, of Charlecote, near Stratford-upon-Avon.
It was quite common to include one’s coat of arms on a seal ring or seal matrix, used to seal letters or official documents. This silver seal matrix (images fourth and bottom right) was most likely produced as evidence by John Halsted of Pidley, Huntingdonshire, at the heraldic visitation of his county in 1684. The Folger Conservation Lab has made a new impression from the original matrix. Within the shield are an eagle displayed, that is, with its wings spread. Above the eagle is a chief chequy, a checkered band along the top of the shield. Since seals are a single color, the colors of the arms are not represented. This seal matrix of the Halsted family is on loan by the courtesy of Professor Sir John Baker.