Wales Research – Part 3


How to Search Wales Genealogy Records featured by top professional genealogists, Price Genealogy | Wales Genealogy by popular online genealogist Price Genealogy: image the Welsh flag.


It is no secret that Wales is a very small country.  Having a total of 8,016 square miles, Wales is approximately one tenth the size of the state of Utah. However, an understanding of the counties of Wales and their locations may be crucial to your research. Due to the same parish and town names being used in various areas of Wales, you will need to know more than “My ancestor came from Llanfair” to be able to do your Wales genealogy .

A map of the counties where your ancestors lived, with parish boundaries included, may be found in Phillimore’s Atlas and Index of Parish Registers online at Note, there are 13 communities found in this atlas and index with a name beginning with “Llanfair”!

Here are a few clues about how place names can affect your research:

  • Until quite recently, the spelling of place names, even in official documents, varied quite considerably. Don’t get hung up on “correct” spelling. For example, Llanboidy can be found as Llanboydy, or Llanbeyde, and all three spellings represent the same place.
  • Many people in a parish often had the same name (John Jones, William Evans, David Howell), even after patronymics ceased to be used, Welsh people often used their farm names, birth places, or other locations to identify themselves. For example, a man might introduce himself as David Williams of Ardwyn. Ardwyn means hill, so a Welsh speaking person would know that this David Williams was the man who lived on the hill, not the David Williams who lived in the valley. If the name given indicates a farm name, you may be able to find the exact location of the farm using Ordnance Survey maps, which are available at the National Library of Scotland website,
  • Many Welsh place names are descriptive. For example, the word “Llan,” which is found at the beginning of so many Welsh place names, means church. The word “Aber” means the beginning or confluence of a river. Some place names can be very descriptive – John Evans of Rhydd-y-Granedd, indicates that his name is John Evans and he lives at the farm beside the ford at the cairn (a cairn is a man made pile of rocks). It will be helpful if you keep a list of common Welsh words close by while you are researching.
  • You will find that place names may vary between English and Welsh versions of the name. Here are a few examples: Cardigan may be shown as Aberteifi, Newtown in Welsh is Y Drenewydd, and Presteigne is Llanandras. Different record collections and different time periods may use one language or the other. Interestingly, most nonconformist records will list the place of the event, baptism or burial, using the Welsh name. Be sure you know the place name of interest in both its Welsh and English forms.
  • A very helpful article about Welsh place names may be found on the FamilySearch Wiki. Search for “Wales place names”.
  • After you have identified the parish of interest, be sure that you become familiar with surrounding parishes. Marriages and change in employment will frequently mean additional parishes will be part of your ancestors’ lives.
  • Here is a little test for you – The Welsh name for Swansea is Abertawe. What does Abertawe mean? (You will find the answer at the end of this blog.)
  • The Family History Society of Wales website,, was organized to help researchers learn more about family history societies in Wales. It has a very useful listing of parishes, their counties, their county name after the reorganization of 1974, and the name of the county society which covers your parish of interest.

Wales Genealogy

 Disappearing DissentersWales Genealogy by popular online genealogist, Price Genealogy: image of a stone cottage.

A discussion of nonconformity in Wales is not just about comparing religious opinions and doctrine, it can also be a discussion of politics and sensibilities of society. Until 1870, the bishops of all four dioceses in Wales were upper class Englishmen who spoke no Welsh and were intolerant of those who conversed in Welsh. This drove many Welsh people away from the established Church of England. At a time when there was a resurgence of the Welsh language, many wanted to worship in their native language.

Our ancestors’ desire to use the Welsh language and to worship as they pleased brings up a whole set of challenges.

It has been estimated that by 1851 there were 2,826 nonconformist congregations in Wales. You may have the following questions:

  • How will I know if my ancestors were nonconformists?
  • Which church will have the records of my ancestors?
  • Do the records for my ancestors’ church exist?
  • Will I be able to read the records from my ancestors’ church?

Here are a few of many clues that your ancestors may have been nonconformists:

  • The absence of baptism records indicates the possibility that your ancestor was a Baptist and did not agree with the practice of infant baptism, or that they had allegiance to another nonconformist congregation.
  • The given names of children may indicate nonconformity in the family. Old Testament names and names expressing virtues were very popular with many nonconformist families: e.g. Aaron, Gabriel or Benjamin for boys, and Faith, Hope, or Grace for girls.
  • During the years between 1754 and 1837, marriages had to be performed in the Church of England to be considered legal. Marriage by license may indicate that the individuals marrying did not want banns read, as they may not have been members of the parish and might be nonconformist.
  • They married in a parish and continued residing in the area but no children were baptized.
  • Occasionally, a burial will be recorded in a churchyard of a parish but without a burial service. This may be recorded in the registers with a note that the person being buried was a member of another congregation, or simply a note that there was no burial service.

The next two questions may be answered together. Which church will have the records of my nonconformist ancestors, and do the records for my ancestors’ church exist? As was mentioned in an earlier blog, many records for nonconformist congregations no longer exist. As nonconformity was either illegal or frowned upon for many generations, any records that were kept were kept secretly. Whether hidden in the back of a cupboard or in the rafters of a building, many unfortunate consequences happened: records were lost, damaged or destroyed. However, some records do survive. A search of nonconformist records on and may be productive.  The catalog on is another resource for finding records of nonconformists in Wales. If records can be found for a particular congregation, a variety of types of information may exist, such as the notification of the selection of Ruling Elders shown below from the records of Llancrwys, Carmarthenshire:

Wales Genealogy by popular online genealogist, Price Genealogy: image of a Welsh genealogy document.

Finally, to answer the question regarding whether you will be able to read the records of your nonconformist ancestors . . . the answer is Maybe! Some pro-active nonconformist ministers created records where one page was an entry of the event in the Welsh language and the opposite page was the same in English. Many, however, were solely in the Welsh language. As mentioned in an earlier Wales blog, you can learn a lot from the FamilySearch Wiki article on Welsh Gravestones. Google translate may also be helpful.

Even though we don’t consider Wales to be a Catholic country, we shouldn’t disregard the fact that there were places in Wales where people stayed faithful to their Catholic heritage through many years of persecution. Some of the areas where Catholics were found during the 1600s include Holywell and Talacre in the north of Wales, Powis Castle and Brecon in central Wales, and particularly in Monmouthshire. (Monmouthshire is sometimes considered part of Wales and sometimes part of England.) For the last 150+ years, Catholicism has been the religion of approximately 10% of the population of Wales. Although many Catholic records no longer exist, many members of the Catholic faith were married and buried using the rites of the Church of England and may be found in the Anglican records. This was a safety measure to prove legitimacy of their children. Sometimes you will find a notation that they were Papists. For more details on Catholics in Wales, consult chapter 2 of Second Stages in Researching Welsh Ancestry, edited by John & Sheila Rowlands, 1999.

Answer to the test in the Maps section of the blog: the Welsh name for Swansea—Abertawe—means the mouth of the River Taw or Tawe. Well done if you answered correctly; you are beginning to learn some Welsh!

At Price Genealogy we have over forty years of experience helping people with the unique challenges their Welsh genealogy. We are happy to help you break through your brick walls as well.


Have you done any Wales genealogy work before?  Let us know in a comment below!