In the period of the Visitations from 1530 to 1688 the visiting Herald upon arriving in the county would take up residence at the home of the principal gentleman of the area. His presence was proclaimed to the locals and all local gentry were requested or required to come to the residence for registration. This task took a long time to carry out correctly and the process was sometimes not carried out correctly and some details were skimped on. Following this the next step was registration and this also presented difficulties. All recording was done by hand and in recording the pedigrees the heralds experienced the same issues facing a modern editor when he asks for exact dates of birth, marriage and death. Most people are unable to accurately give these dates for their ancestors without consulting documents or other people; consequently few of the pedigrees recorded in the first Visitations go back beyond the great-grandfather of the man giving the information. The first Visitation of Kent in 1530-1, a slim volume of only 22 pages, gives very few dates in its pedigrees. The pedigrees in the early Visitations rarely extend beyond three generations and are often limited to a statement of paternity alone. The genealogical function was new to the Heralds but they adopted it with growing skill. The primary concern was with coats of arms but genealogy was playing a growing role in Heraldry and vice versa.
In some counties, during the course of the Visitations, it became the practice for the Heralds to combine the records of different inspections in the same document. The 1530 Visitation of Sussex is continued and enlarged by the combination of the Visitation of the same county in 1633. This practice implies continuity in the work and shows how its genealogical aspect was becoming more and more prominent. In most of the Visitations manuscripts the Coat of Arms is sketched at the head of the pedigree. The illustrations are usually in black and white, see above, and show the quarterings of the family’s marriage alliances. Generally a lady’s family arms would be incorporated with her husband’s arms if she came from a great family or occasionally if she had no brothers, thius allowing the arms to live on incorporated into those of her husband. Usually the combination was through quartering, with the shield divided in four quarters containing the husbands arms in the first and fourth quarter and the wife’s arms in the second and third quarter. As an example see the Hely-Hutchinson arms below.