The 16th Mr Wilson « My Family Silver

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The 16th Mr Wilson

Stephen Marsh on the subject of Crestfinder. Posted on February 28th, 2012.

We recently took a stand at “Who do you think you are live 2012” and had the pleasure of meeting many fascinating people; not least some of our fellow exhibitors, of whom more at a later date.

I was delighted that our ranges of new glass and china emblazoned with family crests sold well and we plan to introduce them to the website during March.

We were also identifying crests for £5 a time and plan to introduce this service shortly too.

One man brought me a photograph of a coat of arms belonging to his mother’s family emblazoned on a piece of 19th century porcelain and asked me to identify the family. He knew that they were called Wilson but was unsure which of the 100 Wilsons in our database they might be.


We had four entries for Wilson with crests of “a Talbot head erased” and three of them were listed with the motto “Semper Vigilans”. But when I checked against Burkes General Armory only the Wilsons of Queensferry, Scotland, who by our records had the motto “Expecto cuncta superne” (which sounds like a Hogwarts spell), matched exactly the image above; but I was puzzled by the different motto.

We built our database originally around Fairbairn’s book of crests (1905 edition) partially because it specialised in crests and partially because it had more images than other directories; however we were aware that it had a reputation for errors and over the past 4 years we have corrected as many as we could find. To put it into perspective Fairbairn’s contained approximately 3,500 images for 45,000 entries. We have subsequently added entries from Burkes General Armory, Fox-Davies “Armorial Families” and many other sources; all of whom we list on the site as we are meticulous about citing our sources. We now have over 60,000 entries in our database and have created images for all but 3,000 of them.

When I looked at the entry in Burkes General Armory (1843) for Wilson of Queensferry I noticed that the motto was given “as the last”. The entry above was for Wilson of Plewlands and their motto was “Semper Vigilans”. However the entry before that (Wilson of Inverness) had the motto “Expecto cuncta superne” and I suspect that James Fairbairn (or his researcher), in the course of plagiarising Burkes General Armory, had allowed his finger to slip and record the wrong motto.

I am glad to have corrected another error but am sure that it won’t be the last.

My visitor was able to tell me a bit about the family which he had traced back seven generations to Joseph Wilson of the East India Company in the late 18th century, via the Wilson Beer Brewery in Manchester. But he really wanted to go back further than that. As we specialise in crests rather than genealogy I have recommended that he talk to Peter Beauclerk Dewar, a professional genealogist and former editor of Burkes Landed Gentry of Scotland.

Which reminds me of Alec Douglas-Home’s excellent riposte to Harold Wilson’s sneers about Mr Douglas-Home being the 16th Earl of Home: “For all I know he could be the 16th Mr Wilson”.

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