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 www.ancestry.com. 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:
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:
Here are a few of many clues that your ancestors may have been nonconformists:
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 www.ancestry.com and www.findmypast.com may be productive. The catalog on www.familysearch.org 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:
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!