What is Hearaldry?
Heraldry is the art of symbols used to represent a coat of arms. The coat of arms is often a symbol of a family, but it can also be used for an organization or for a country. Coats of arms originally began as symbols used to identify an individual or family, and over time they became more and more elaborate, consisting of a variety of different pieces and parts that all have meanings unique to the language of heraldry.
The basics of a family coat of arms include a shield (usually split into four pieces), the supporters (animals or mythical beasts on either side of the shield), a helmet or helm atop the shield and a crest atop the helmet. Each of these pieces represents something different, and the particular symbol that's chosen represents something as well. The shape of the shield denotes what part of the world the coat of arms is from, and the elements on the shield speak to the virtues of the family (weaponry might represent military strength, while a book or scroll might represent scholarship). The retainers represent the core beliefs or attributes of the family, and creatures like boars might represent strength while rearing lions represent bravery. The helmet style, like the shield, represents the geographic area that the coat of arms is from. The crest, which may also be a mythical animal or beast, is meant to represent a specific facet of the family. A cockatrice means "terror to enemies," whereas a stag might represent vigor and strength.
Because of the sheer variety when it comes to coats of arms and the language of heraldry it can sometimes be hard to track down your own coat of arms. There are a large number of geneology companies and private family tree makers who can help you find out where your family came from and what coat of arms, if any, you have. For a fee of course, and it usually buys you a snapshot of the history, and an emblazoned copy of your family coat of arms. Fortunately if your family doesn't have a coat of arms all its own (many don't, or they've completely lost the coats they once had) you can just sit down and create your own. All you need is to find a list of heraldric symbols and their meanings. Of course, it also helps to have a knowledge of your family's achievement and accomplishments, because when you know that you know what symbols and feelings you should include in your own coat of arms.