Heralds have been genealogists since the fifteenth century. The hereditary nature of arms encouraged them to develop scientific genealogical methods at an early date. Sir William Dugdale (died 1686), Garter King of Arms, was one of the greatest pioneers of modern genealogical research in England. Ralph Bigland (died 1784), also Garter, led the way in developing studies of families that were not of land-owning or gentry status, believing that genealogy was interesting in its own right.
Officers of arms conduct genealogical research, primarily within the British Isles, into families of all social strata. Sometimes the purpose of the research is to see if a right to arms by descent can be established, but more often the inspiration behind the commission is simple genealogical curiosity and the client is not hoping or expecting to find armigerous ancestors.
The heralds have the advantage over other genealogists not only of access to the unique records and collections of the College of Arms, accrued over five centuries, but also of being part of a continuing tradition of expertise and technique.