to time constraints this report is about one aspect only of the search
for the origins of Humphrey Belt. It deals exclusively with
information obtained from The Royal College of Arms in London, England,
formerly known as the College of Heralds and the developments from
it. From a family history aspect the College’s credentials are
impeccable – the Holy Grail of family history.
of the documents received from the College are at the end of this
explanation of them.
research began originally nearly two years ago when Edward asked the
College of Arms to examine the coat-of-arms of Colonel Joseph Belt who
was the son of John and grandson of Humphrey Belt who arrived in
Virginia in 1635 at the age of 20. Unfortunately, the work asked for
was undertaken but left in a tray and was there when a fire broke out
in the offices. It was to be nearly a year before the College found it
again and Edward got an answer or two and the most intriguing mystery
yet surrounding Humphrey.
Garter King at Arms, Thomas Woodcock, could not find a match at all for
Joseph’s coat-of-arms as a Belt, but it proved to be identical to the
Birkbeck coat-of-arms. Woodcock also looked into the myths and
legends surrounding the Yorkshire Belt coats-of-arms. There is one and
one only and that is the coat-of-arms designed initially for Sir
William Belt. When his brother Sir Robert Belt was knighted, he shared
the same design as his brother. Their father never had a coat-of-arms
because he was never knighted. This means a reference to this
knighthood in the York archives, in their official records, is wrong.
It never happened. Interestingly, the reference says there were
two together knighted, one being Leonard Belt. Such elaborate lies;
clearly something was happening, but not what they wanted people to
After Edward received Woodcock’s first letter he asked me to act for
him with the College and the mystery promptly got deeper.
Discovering Joseph had the Birkbeck coat-of-arms produced a kind of
sub-committee. It comprised Edward, Mary Lou, Elizabeth and I. We
covered a great deal of ground which I’ll explain another time – it
doesn’t immediately affect this research as such.
Crucially important was how the knowledge of this coat-of-arms was
passed down the generations. Edward had grown up with it and has proof
it was extant in 1722. He is descended from Colonel Joseph. Mary Lou
also knew of the coat-of-arms because it too was passed down through
the generations; originating she believes with her grandmother’s
generation who may have first found the coat-of-arms through the
description of Virginia Dorsey Lightfoot. Lightfoot credits
"Authority---The Original drawing of "The Arms of Joseph Belt, Esquire"
by James Neale Maguire, dated June 20, 1751" published in
the Baltimore Sun article in 1904.”
Mary Lou is descended from John, Joseph’s elder brother. Until about a
decade ago, neither branch of descendents was aware of the other; until
a chance meeting at a conference. Elizabeth came to know about Joseph’s
coat of arms through Belt Campus and she did an enormous amount of
research to verify all claims about it. She discovered whilst Joseph
had the coat-of-arms he never used it in any correspondence or any
other way whatsoever. This, of course, raised another question as
to whether Joseph knew they were not the Belt arms which so far hasn’t
been answered. All three had found and referred to the same
1722 in the USA there were no records of Herald’s Visitations in UK.
There were no genealogical books with family trees in them at all. This
wasn’t unusual. The College of Heralds was inaugurated in the
reign of Richard III in 1484 to maintain the bloodlines of the
aristocracy; the studbook of the King’s peers. It had to be
100% accurate because it had implications for wards of court of the
King where he had the use of the money of orphans. It was a guide to
the marriage-go-round; how many knights would be available for wars and
taxation etc. etc. It ensured that all the families were
inescapably registered. There were severe penalties for anyone
who passed false information to the record keepers.
College had a monopoly on this information and it wasn’t until about
the middle of the 19th Century that any of it came into the public
domain where anyone could have access if they were prepared to pay for
it. Previously only the monarchs and lawyers had unfettered
is the reason why in Virginia and then in Maryland the coat of arms
would not be challenged. If a person said it was their coat-of-arms and
put their name on it, it was accepted into the USA record books.
After having been recognised for a couple of centuries in this way, who
would challenge it? Until Edward came along no one did and then he
the UK the restricted access meant only those who knew families who
displayed coats-of-arms would be aware of the details of them.
There’s always been a question mark over the coat-of-arms as to whether
Joseph invented them or not. I think this can now be categorically put
to rest permanently because the chances of someone producing exactly
the same design listed for another name is millions to one. Every
one is different; its part of the College’s duties to ensure this is
so. Colonel Joseph was still alive in 1751 and must have been the
source for Maguire’s very accurate drawing of that year, or, at least
given his permission for it to be made available to a wider public
beyond the family. I think it unlikely he would have done so if he had
any idea the coat-of-arms belonged to the Birkbeck and not the Belt
family. There was always a chance a Birkbeck may come along one day and