Business owner John Lehman, who runs the heraldry and genealogy site, stands with books used in research.

Business owner John Lehman, who runs the heraldry and genealogy site, stands with books used in research.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

Heraldry researcher expands to genealogy

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published November 30, 2018

STERLING HEIGHTS — Even at a young age, flags and emblems always caught the eye of John Lehman.

“I do specifically have a memory of what got me interested in flags,” he said. “There was a book about world flags in the library of my kindergarten that I went to. When I got time to go to the library, that was the first book I’d go to.”

Lehman, 34, of Sterling Heights, now owns COADB, or the Coat of Arms Database, which is an online business that sells imagery of people’s ancestral coats of arms, among other services. He said his business team currently is small, with around 10 contract workers helping him in the U.S. and Europe.

The business has records of around 30,000 different coats of arms that belong to a total of 4,000 last names. The business sells T-shirts, merchandise and images of these surnames’ coats of arms, and it also does genealogy reports.

Lehman said what became COADB dates back to 2002, when he was 17 years old.

It began as an online T-shirt business, and he sold shirts of flags through online retailers CafePress and Zazzle. He then transitioned in 2006 to selling the coats of arms merchandise.

He said coats of arms searches have involved a lot of work, though he has automated much of it over the years. He said he loves the intellectual stimulation that his business provides.

“I love challenges. I like working alone, which I do quite often. I just love being creative,” he said.

Lehman said his research found plenty of blazons, or coats of arms descriptions, from old books that date back to the 19th or even 17th centuries. Heraldry carries its own jargon about colors and symbols. For instance, “azure” signifies blue and “gules” means red, he explained.

He said his customers often want their coats of arms to use in crafts, or to put on a porch flag. Other people buy them simply because they’re interested, he explained.

Lehman said his business is transitioning to making T-shirts in-house, and it also has been expanding into another service: family trees and ancestral history.

He said the genealogy service started this year, and he plans to continue rolling out next year. While heraldry and coats of arms basically are tied to European ancestry, Lehman said his company sometimes has the resources to explore the genealogy of other ethnic backgrounds.

“We’ll do consultations and talk to people about their projects,” he said. “If we feel there’s enough information out there, we’ll do it.

“It’s interesting. It’s a bit of a crapshoot. Sometimes you can hit a brick wall. … Sometimes you’ll get that right away, like around the Civil War. But other times it goes back really far. I got someone back to 1300 A.D. That person was actually a direct descendant of Sir Walter Raleigh.”

Lehman’s friend and associate, Kyle Manduch, said Lehman has multiple businesses and responsibilities as a cost analyst — yet manages to invest his energy into expanding COADB.

“He’s got a full-time job to begin with, and he manages his time and family,” Manduch said. “He’s doing a lot of research in regards to who to contact, which offices to contact, which people are really involved in the community, in genealogy, and things of that nature.”

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