Needing to find some ancestral information from Wales? Then you've come to the right place! Today we're sharing everything you need to know about navigating your way through the Wales Genealogy Records.
You have identified an ancestor who was born in Wales and now you want to know more about Wales and what you can expect to find about your Welsh ancestor, his life and family. The purpose of this blog is to help you know the challenges and potential of researching your family in Wales. Despite the similarity in records between Wales and England, researching your family in Wales can be challenging.
A quick review of records of people in Wales reveals the fact that there isn’t much diversity of names in Wales. This is particularly true for surnames. The adoption of surnames in Wales came a lot later than in other parts of the United Kingdom - some areas didn’t begin using surnames until the 19th century. Generally speaking, the further north you travel in Wales, the later surnames began. So how did our Welsh ancestors know which John was which? They used patronymics. In Wales, the patronymic naming system caused children to take their father’s name to identify them. For example, it was “David son of John” when translated into English. The Welsh word for son is “mab” or “map” and this became abbreviated to “ab” or “ap”. You will frequently see names such as David ap John in early records. Occasionally, you will actually see a number of generations, such as David ap John ap Llewelyn ap Owain. Daughters were also known by their father’s name with the word “ferch,” or daughter of. Verch was often abbreviated and you will see names such as “Gwenllian vch David” in records. As the anglicized system of surnames began to take hold in Wales, names such as Bowen came from ap Owen and Powell from ap Howell. An excellent discussion of naming patterns in Wales may be found at www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Wales_Names,_Personal
Though a very small country, Wales is made up of several counties. First, we need to focus our research in our ancestor’s specific county before searching the whole country. One of the main reasons for this is that the same place names may show up in multiple counties. Adding to this confusion is the plethora of place names beginning with “Llan.” What does “Llan” mean, and why is it used so frequently? In most cases the name “Llan” refers to the location of a church or area surrounding the church. For example, Llanbadrig is named for the church of St Patrick. The place name “Llanfair” is found in most counties, and in each case is actually part of a longer name that has been shortened to Llanfair. To add to the confusion, most places have both a Welsh name and an English name. There are many resources to help with this, but an awareness of the problems and quick searches in Google will usually find answers.
All of this leaves us with the problem of determining whether we have the correct ancestor among all the John Evans of Llanfair found in the records!
The website www.findmypast.com is a wonderful resource for records of the established church in Wales. It does not have full coverage of every parish in every county for every year, but it can be very helpful.
Be aware that many of our Welsh ancestors were non-conformists, meaning they did not attend or agree with the doctrine of the state church. Some records of non-conformist congregations may be found on websites such as www.ancestry.com, but in a conversation I had with the head archivist for Wales, he stated that it is possible that over 50% of non-conformist records no longer exist. A good resource for information regarding records of non-conformist chapels in Wales is Bert J. Rawlins’ The Parish Churches and Nonconformist Chapels of Wales. This book may be found and read online through the Family History Library catalog, found at www.familysearch.org.
If your ancestor lived in the mid-1880s through early 1900s, don’t forget to use census records and the 1939 Register. The English censuses will help to determine the birth location of your ancestor, which will help insure that you have the correct John Evans. There are 8,448 men named John Evans in the 1851 census for Wales. Always remember to check every relevant census as your ancestor may have given different birth places on different census records. Remember that for the 1891, 1901 and 1911 censuses, the record will tell you whether your ancestor spoke Welsh.
Let me introduce you to a wonderful resource – Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru.
Are you baffled? Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru simply means the National Library of Wales.
The National Library of Wales is the diocesan record office for the whole of Wales, which means that it holds all parish records, wills proved in Welsh church courts prior to 1857, bishop’s transcripts, marriage bonds, records of the Great Sessions, and much more. The National Library is beautifully situated high above the village and beach of Aberystwyth and well worth a visit.
Here are just a few of the resources available through the National Library:
This resource contains 300,000 entries and their accompanying apportionment documents, along with original and present-day maps.
Welsh newspapers may be found at http://welshnewspapersllgc.org.uk/en/home.
Most newspapers are in English, but a few use the Welsh language. Genealogical word lists can be found online. (See the earlier Wales blog post for resources for Welsh language help.)
More newspapers may be found at www.findmypast.com or at the dedicated website www.britishnewpaperarchive.co.uk.
This is an indexed collection of marriage bonds for Wales. You can order a copy of the marriage bond of interest and learn more about the individuals, possibly their ages, and the groom’s occupation and more.
The National Library has a wonderful collection of wills, available at www.library.wales/searchwills/.
Here is a small sample of the wills found in a search of wills using the name Llewlyn, one of my family names. Note the use of patronymics.
County archives may have a smaller staff and take a little longer to answer your queries, but they are usually extremely helpful and friendly. For an excellent list of county archives, check the following wiki article: www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Wales_Archives_and_Libraries.
In the Victorian Era, with the advent of railways, many Welsh people went to London. The London Branch of the Welsh Family History Society is a good resource.
Collieries – if you are interested in the life of your Welsh coalmining ancestor, watch for progress in the Blood of the Valleys project at https://glamarchives.wordpress.com.
Mariners – an online index to 23,500 Welsh mariners may be found on www.welshmariners.org.uk.
We have only scratched the surface of researching ancestors in Wales. Hopefully, you have found our two blog posts for research in Wales to be helpful. At Price Genealogy we have over forty years of experience helping people with the unique challenges of Welsh genealogy.
Finally, a suggestion – try to visit Wales, take an umbrella and sturdy shoes, get out and walk the roads where your Welsh ancestors lived. Visit the churches and chapels where your ancestors worshipped. Hear the music of the Welsh language and gain a deeper appreciation for your Welsh heritage.
Hwyl fawr a phob lwc!
Goodbye and good luck
Have you tried finding information in the Wales genealogy records before? Were you successful at finding what you were looking for? Let us know in a comment below!