Not One Drop of Blood But What Is American

John Adams (1735-1826), President and Patriot, gave the following account of his ancestry: 

“One of the foreign Ambassadors said to me, You have been often in England. — Never but once in November and December 1783. You have Relations in England no doubt. — None at all. — None how can that be? You are of English Extraction? — Neither my Father or Mother, Grandfather or Grandmother, Great Grandfather or Great Grandmother nor any other Relation that I know of or care a farthing for have been in England these 150 Years. So that you see, I have not one drop of Blood in my Veins, but what is American. — Ay We have seen says he proofs enough of that. This flattered me no doubt, and I was vain enough to be pleased with it.”

John Adams, Diary, 43:13, May 3, 1785

Swanström Arms

Traditional arms, assumed about 1918
(Design by Magnus Backmark)

Descendants of Adolf Swanström

The Swanström arms were assumed (I believe) during or shortly after World War I, perhaps about 1918, and certainly before 1942 by my great uncle Hugo Ferdinand Swanström (1886-1971). The arms might be older than I know. No records exist of the arms assumed and borne by Swedish commoners, so the arms could have come down to Uncle Hugo from previous generations. However, the arrangement of three charges is so typically an English form that I doubt these arms came from Sweden.

In heraldic blazon, the arms are described as:

Azure two bars wavy Argent between three swans rising Argent beaked and membered Or, wings elevated and addorsed. Crest: Issuant from a crest-coronet Or a demi-swan as in the arms. Motto: Sans Tache.

In Swedish: Sköld: I blått fält två av vågskuror bildade bjälkar av silver ovan åtföljda av två inbördes frånvända och nedan av en svan, alla av silver med beväring av guld och med lyftade vingar. Blått hjälmtäcke fodrat med silver. Hjälmprydnad: En dylik svan uppstigande ur en hjälmkrona av guld.

Jeanne Swanström registered a version of these arms with the American College of Heraldry in 2005, and I registered another version with the Bureau of Heraldry in South Africa in 2006. The arms are also included in the database of the Svenska Heraldiska Föreningen.


The Swanström arms are canting arms, meaning that they are a picture of the surname. In Swedish, svans-ström means “swan’s-stream,” or more poetically, “river of the swans.” The arms show three swans beside a stream.

Most stories about symbolism in heraldry are fantasy, but I find it interesting that a swan is said to denote a music, poetry, and harmony. For more information on the symbolism of swans, see my Swan Lore pages.


  • The Augustan Society, The Augustan Society Roll of Arms, 52-53 (Justin Durand, 5 March 1983).
  • Magnus Bäckmark, Gröna Stubbens Vapenrulla (Hugo Swanstrom, 1999).
  • Svenska Heraldiska Föreningen, Heraldiska Källan, No. 1646 (Hugo Swanstrom, 1999).
  • American College of Heraldry, No. 2793 (Jeanne Swanström, 17 November 2005).
  • United States Heraldic Registry, No. 20070204E (Jeanne Swanstrom, 4 February 2007).
  • United States Heraldic Registry, No. 20070204F (Hugo Swanstrom, 4 February 2007).
  • United States Heraldic Registry, No. 20070204G (Justin Swanstrom, 4 February 2007).
Arms of Jeanne Swanström

(click to enlarge)

Other Svanström Families

The American Swanströms are not related to the Svanström family who were untitled nobility. Augustin Larsson Svanström (1600-1658) was ennobled by Queen Christina in 1647 (No. 397). His father Lars Michelsson was Governor of Helsinski Castle. The family became extinct in the male line with the death of Capt. Frans Ludvig Svanström in 1678. Their arms are illustrated below.


Arms of the Swanström family (No. 397)

Other Swedish Families

The Laxmand family in Sweden bears arms that would have been equally appropriate to a Svanström family. Their arms are illustrated below.

Arms of the Laxmand Family



Similar Arms

Because of the inherent difficulties of creating a unique design, families separated by time and distance occasionally choose identical designs. I have not discovered any other families that bear the same arms as the Swanströms, but following are close:

Swan, of Badwinstown Castle, co. Wexford. Azure on a fess wavy Argent, between three swans displayed Proper crowned Or, a trefoil Vert. Crest: a swan Proper crowned Or charged with a trefoil Vert. Motto: Sit nomen decus. (Sir Bernard Burke, The General Armory of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales (1864), 989.)

Waters, of Lenham, co. Kent. Sable three bars wavy between as many swans Argent. (John Woody Papworth,  Ordinary of British Armorials (1961), 44.)

A black swan is the badge of Western Australia, which has for its motto Cygnis Insignis (Distinguishged by Its Swans).


American Heraldry Society

Back in 2003 I was one of three founding members of the American Heraldry Society, with David Boven and Cory McHenry. Those were the days.

As I recall, the Society grew out of discussions in an online forum. One of the usenet groups, I think. Probably rec.heraldry. In the beginning David was our President, I was Vice President, and Cory was Secretary. As with many new groups, the way we arranged ourselves into the choice of offices was something that didn’t take much thought. It was just obvious. Later, I was happy to disappear into the background and leave the politics to new members with more ambition and higher social needs.

The Society was originally incorporated in the state of Colorado in 2003, but was dissolved and re-incorporated in Texas in 2007. I still have some of the original records. Succeeding corporate officers have never asked for them but in our modern world I doubt they need them.

Our little group attracted a lot of attention and eventually became the premier society for American heraldry in a very crowded field. (It seems every amateur heraldic enthusiast in America wants to preside over his or own society.)

I’ve always been very proud of what the Society has accomplished, growing out of the original vision and working with a core group of very dedicated members.

Now the Society is having some growing pains. The website ( has been offline for months. The official explanation seems to be that the site was designed by amateurs. (Oh yes, it certainly was.) So we need professional help. (Yes, everyone needs professional help.) Which is just another way of saying it was working when the amateurs were running things, but the pros broke it and they’re having trouble fixing it.

I’ll just leave that train of thought there and hope the people involved can see the humor in it.

I hope they’re back soon. For now the only way to contact the Society or participate is through its Facebook group:

Interview with Grandma Hazel

hazel-alloway-howeryThe other day on someone contacted me about a cassette they found in an old camcorder at a garage sale in Laramie. The tape turned out to be an interview my Aunt Bunny did with her mother, my grandfather’s wife, in 2005.

What a wonderful find. I had no idea the tape existed. Neither did anyone else, it seems.

So often I tell people a big part of the trick to doing genealogy is advertising. You need to let people know who you are and how to reach you. This proves it.

I’ve uploaded a copy to YouTube as one part of a strategy of preserving information, even when it’s not about my own direct ancestors.