Colin Powell proud to be a Scot

FIRST it was Elvis, who it was claimed, hailed from the tiny Aberdeenshire village of Lonmay. Then last month legendary country and western singer Johnny Cash was shown to have descended from the family of an ancient Scots king.

Now one of the most powerful politicians in the world has joined the club. Colin Powell, the four-star general who led 28 nations to victory as the architect of operation Desert Storm in the first Gulf War, is laying a claim to Scottish ancestry.

The Scotsman has learned that the US Secretary of State has petitioned the Heraldry Society of Scotland for a coat of arms to mark his Scottish genealogy.

The coat of arms will contain symbols including the crest of the head of an American bald eagle, below an escrol with the motto "devoted to public service".

Peter Drummond Murray, the editor of the Double Tressure, the annual journal of the Heraldry Society of Scotland, said the Lord Lyon intends to present the arms in Washington, probably in September, but details have not been finalised.

Mr Drummond Murray said: "The grant was originally made to his father several months ago, and so, of course, General Powell inherits it. The Register General of Jamaica was very happy about working on the ancestry of General Powell.

"They are very proud of him, and you would be very hard-put to think of anybody who has done as well as him."

Arguably the world’s most famous living soldier, General Powell had the coat of arms created for him after petitioning the society on the advice of his US army colleague General Jack Nicholson, whose ancestors came from Arran.

As arms cannot be granted directly to non-British subjects it will be given to his father, Luther, who is a citizen of Jamaica and therefore of the Crown.

Luther Powell was born in the British Commonwealth colony of Jamaica in 1901, and the Secretary of State’s mother Maud McKoy’s family originally hailed from Scotland.

One of the duties of the Court of the Lord Lyon is to establish rights to arms and pedigrees, which, when satisfactory evidence is produced, results in a judicial "interlocutor" granting warrant to record in the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland, or in the Public Register of All Genealogies and Birthbrieves in Scotland, the particular coat of arms and genealogy which have been established.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a family coat of arms; a coat of arms at any one time is the property of only one individual and all progeny must have a different version. In times past it was used to denote identity or, if it was on a piece of property, it revealed ownership.

The swelling interest in Scottish ancestry reflects a growing trend in tracing familial roots which experts say is providing a significant boost to Scottish tourism, as access to comprehensive records tempts the Scottish Diaspora back to discover their predecessors.

Elizabeth Roads, Lyon Clerk at the Court of the Lord Lyon, the heraldic authority for Scotland, said about 120 to 150 Grants of Arms are made each year. As well as individuals these include corporations such as schools and bowling clubs, companies and those that are re-recording arms that have existed for a long time.

Mrs Roads said: "Everyone is aware of the American Diaspora but Americans in particular seem to have a desire to learn about their ancestral roots which perhaps people here don’t feel the same need to know about. So certainly there has been a lot of genealogical resurgence, as it were, particularly in North America."

The National Archives of Scotland says it has experienced a resurgence in genealogy; last year nearly 6,000 people visited its searchroom to look at material such as wills, and church and property records.

Romilly Squire, the chairman of the Heraldry Society of Scotland, added: "Genealogy is, I believe, the second most popular subject on the internet these days, after the obvious one. Over the last 30 years it has been growing in popularity and in more recent years it has become a great deal easier for people to trace their ancestry from a distance. It has always been reasonably easy in Scotland because we keep good records back to the start of 1855 which was the start of Statutory Registration.

"America was a colony up until 1783, and if an American can trace their descent back to an ancestor who was living in the US before the revolutionary war, or back to an ancestor who was born in Scotland, then they can petition the Court of the Lord Lyon to grant arms to that ancestor. Then, as a direct descendent of that individual they can then have their own version of that coat of arms."

General Powell’s coat of arms contains symbols including the Azure, which shows "two swords in saltire, points downward, between four mullets Argent in a chief of the second a lion passant Gules".

The swords are a reference to his military career, as are the stars. The lion is intended as an allusion to Scotland, and the eagle is also a reference to the badge of the 101st Airborne Division, in which General Powell served and later commanded. The honorary Knight Commander of the most Honourable Order of the Bath is also included.

James Wilson, chief executive of Glasgow-based Pandaprint which undertakes printing work for the Heraldry Society said: "It is very strange when we look at our mailing list for the society to see the name of the most famous soldier in the world."