The Parish Registers of Wales
R W MacDonald. National Library of Wales journal. 1976, Winter. Volume XIX/4
Extracted onto the pages of GENUKI with the kind permission of the National Library of Wales
This is a complete extract of this article (Gareth Hicks May 2003)
THIS article is based on a study of the original parish registers deposited in the National Library of Wales and the photocopies of other registers which are available in the Library. Over four hundred ancient parishes are represented in these two groups. This is more than a third of the total number of ancient parishes in Wales. Since the registers are derived from all parts of Wales, they are sufficiently representative to form the basis for a general study. The majority of the registers remain in the custody of the incumbents of the various parishes but there is an arrangement for the deposit of the original registers in the National Library for preservation and repair, and the provision by the Library of photocopies to be kept in the appropriate parishes. Another source used in this study was the replies to the questionnaire relating to parochial records sent to parishes by the Library in the period 1933-1940. 1
Thomas Cromwell, Lord Privy Seal and Vicegerent, issued a mandate, 5 September, 1538, 2 ordering every parson, vicar or curate to keep a register of every wedding, christening and burial in his parish. The parishes were to provide a coffer for the safe keeping of the register. The coffer was to have two locks, one key being kept by the clergyman and the other by the churchwardens. Every Sunday the weddings, christenings and burials of the preceding week were to be entered in the register in the presence of the churchwardens (or a churchwarden). Every time they omitted to comply with the injunction, the party at fault was to forfeit 3s 4d to be used for the repair of the church.
The official keeping of parish registers in England and Wales starts with Cromwell's order. It is probable that records relating to important families had been kept before this time by the religious houses and by the clergy, but I know of no evidence relating to the keeping of any parish register in Wales before 1538. Records were sometimes kept in missals and other religious manuscripts e.g. the death of Issabelle Godynogh on 23 April, 1413 is recorded in the Caernarfon Book of Hours (N.L.W. Ms 17520). Poets and genealogists also recorded dates of births and deaths in their manuscripts 3 and dates are often given in verse in the eulogies and elegies of the sixteenth and seventeenth century Welsh poets. Such details are rare before the introduction of the official registers but they can be important because so few early registers have survived in Wales.
The Injunction of 1538 relating to the keeping of parish registers was repeated by Edward VI in 1547 with the variation that the fine of 3s 4d was to be used for the poor of the parish. 4 A similar order was issued by Elizabeth in 1559, the 3s 4d fine was by this order, however, directed to be divided equally between the poor and the repair of the church . 5 In 1598 Elizabeth confirmed a constitution issued (1597) by the convocation of the province of Canterbury which directed the more careful keeping of parish registers. 6 The parishes were ordered to buy parchment registers and the old registers, which had usually been of paper, were to be copied into the new parchment registers, especially from the first year of Elizabeth's reign ....................
................. (1558). It was also ordered that a transcript of the entries was to be sent to the diocesan registry within a month of Easter every year. Similar instructions were included in the canons of 1603, confirmed by James I in 1604, but the transcripts were henceforth to be sent to the registry within a month of 25 March. 7
Estimates relating to the early parish registers extant in England vary. J. C. Cox estimated that there were 877 registers with entries from 1538 and 1539 extant in 1910. 8 There are very many registers in England with entries starting in 1558 or 1559 because the parishes took advantage of the special emphasis upon transcribing the old registers from the first year of Elizabeth's reign contained in the constitutions of 1598 but did not copy the earlier entries. 9
There were over nine hundred ancient parishes and chapelries in Wales but I know of only one parish, Gwaunysgor, co. Flint, which has a register with entries starting in 1538. 10 There are only about half a dozen registers which start before 1560 and only about seventy registers which start before 1600, and many of these start near the end of the sixteenth century. The purchase of the register of Berriew, co. Montgomery, in 1602 is noted in the register but the entries copied into the register start only in 1596. Over half of these early registers belong to parishes in the diocese of St. Asaph. Very few early registers have survived in the diocese of St. Davids and the diocese of Swansea and Brecon (which was part of the diocese of St. Davids until 1923). In many parishes in the diocese of St. Davids no registers before the printed form registers introduced in 1813 have survived and in many other parishes the printed form marriage register introduced in 1754 is the earliest surviving register. The registers of nearly all the parishes in the diocese of St. Asaph start before 1754 but in over half the parishes in the diocese of St. Davids there is now no register dating before 1754.
The situation is similar as regards the transcripts of the registers (commonly referred to as 'the bishops trancripts') which were ordered to be sent to the diocesan registry annually from 1598 onwards. 11 Transcripts dating from 1598 have survived in several English dioceses and in some dioceses there are transcripts from before 1598. 12 There are no transcripts before 1662 in the Welsh dioceses and for a large number of parishes the transcripts do not start until much later and even then they are often incomplete. 13 There are no transcripts for practically the whole of the eighteenth century for the parishes in the archdeaconry of Cardigan and in the archdeaconry of St. Davids. There are very few transcripts for parishes in the diocese of Llandaff before 1723. Despite all that has been lost through accident and neglect however a great deal has survived. I hope to show this in describing the surviving registers, firstly in the context of the general history of the registers and then by a more detailed description of their contents.
The language of the registers varies between Latin and English from parish to parish and within individual registers from period to period until about 1731. An Act of Parliament passed in that year declared that proceedings in courts of justice should be in the English language from 25 March 1733. 14 Latin is not used in the parish registers except for a few years in a small number of parishes after 1732.
Although the Act did not relate to parish registers, it was assumed that it did apply to them as can be seen from the memoranda relating to the Act in a number of parish registers such as the following from the register of Llanbadarn Fawr, co. Cardigan, in 1733
Note that Hence-forward we are Oblig'd by Act of
Parliament, to keep our Register Book in English.
English was the official language of the law courts during the period 1651-60 15 also and English is commonly used in the parish registers especially after the 1653 Act 16 relating to parish registers.
After the Restoration most registers were kept in Latin and this continued until the end of the century when the use of English becomes more common. Welsh was used occasionally in the registers, most frequently in the mid-eighteenth century, but entries in Welsh occur only in a few parishes and for very short periods. But although the language used is Latin or English, the entries commonly have an undoubted Welshness because of the use of Welsh personal names and of the traditional Welsh mode of naming as can be seen from the following examples:
Llandegfan, co. Anglesey, 1551
- David ap Res ap hoell et ) nupti 10 0 die maii
morvyth vch hoell ap Einga[n] )
Res ap hugh sepult fuit 110 die maii
David ap Res ap Ierwerth sepult 200 maii.
Pendeulwyn (Pendoylan), co. Glamorgan, 1573
- Didvill verch dd the daughter of dd ab
gwilime was baptised the seventh day of June
in the yeare next above written [i.e. 1573]
yvan willm ap rosser was buried the xxviith
day of november ano dni 1573 Regniq[ue] 16.
lewys ap owen & wenllia[n] verch llen
were maried the xiiiith day of June ao dni 1573.
The ordinances relating to parish registers up to 1603 have been described. On 4 January 1644/5 an ordinance was issued directing that henceforth vellum registers should be used and that the date of birth and death as well as the date of baptism and burial should be recorded in the registers. 17 These instructions are rarely reflected in the parish registers because in most parishes there are no entries in the registers for the Civil War and Interregnum period and where there are entries they are usually very defective. In the registers which contain entries from this period it is obvious that the most drastic change took place as a consequence of an Act dated 24 August 1653. 18 By this Act, which became operative on 29 September 1653, the registers were taken from the ministers and civil officials called Registers were appointed to be responsible for the registers. This official was to be chosen by 'the Inhabitants and Housholders of every Parish chargeable.................
................... to the relief of the poor' and he was to 'be sworn and approved by one justice of the Peace'. The Register was to keep the register-book and to enter therein all publications (of the intention to marry), marriages, births and burials. He was authorised to charge twelve pence for publications and the certificate thereof, twelve pence for every entry of marriage, four pence for every entry of birth, and four pence for every entry of death, but he was to take nothing from poor people who lived upon alms. The greatest change took place in relation to marriages. The Register was to publish all intended marriages 'three several Lords-days then next following, at the close of the morning Exercise, in the publique Meeting-place commonly called the Church or Chappel; or (if the parties so to be married shall desire it) in the Market-place next to the said Church or Chappel, on three Market-days in three several weeks next following, between the hours of eleven and two; which being so performed, the Register shall (upon the request of the parties concerned) make a true Certificate of the due performance thereof, without which Certificate, the persons herein after authorized shall not proceed in such marriage'. The Act declared that the only legal marriage was a civil contract made before a justice of the peace to whom the certificate of publication had to be presented and who had also to be satisfied of the consent of parents if either of the parties was under twenty one years of age. When this Act was confirmed, 26 June 1657, the clause which declared that no other marriage was 'accounted a Marage according to the Laws of England' was declared null and void. 19
The 1653 Act contained detailed instructions concerning the procedure in marriages and the registering of births and burials but the details in the registers which contain entries for the period 1653-60 vary a great deal. Entries for baptisms rather than births are quite common and the marriage entries often contain no references to publications or justices of the peace. It is fairly certain that a great many couples were married in the church in the traditional manner after going through the civil marriage ceremony. The following entry from the register of Tremeirchion, Co. Flint, reflects the many elements which may be recorded in a marriage entry.
Thomas Hughes & Jane Morgans (after their Banes were thrice asked at Dymerchion & Kilken: & Certificates thereof exhibited before a justice of peace) were lawfully married at the p[ar]ish Church of Caerwys the 28th day of March 1654.
Testante Rich' Jones Vi :s
Publications and marriages are regularly entered in the register of Ilston, co. Glamorgan, and some of the publications were made on three market days at Swansea. A protest against publications (in October and November 1654.) is recorded in this register. It related to the proposed marriage of 'William Barwick of Lanridian & Margrett Quick, widdow of the same p[ar]ish'. It was objected 'againste them att that time by David hughes of Penbray ytt the said Marett Quick widd' had promise to marrey with the said David hughes'. The objection was delivered to a justice of the peace who found it 'to be of no value'.
The Act of 1653 authorised justices of the peace to unite a number of small parishes 'which shall be accompted one Parish as to matters onely within this Act; and one Register to serve for such Parishes and places so united'. In the Ilston register Llanrhidian is described as 'being united unto the p[ar]ish of Ilston' in accordance with this Act. The parishes of Bletherston, Llawhaden and Wiston in co. Pembroke were similarly united. The entries for these three parishes for the period 1653-7 were recorded in three separate sections within one register volume. The appointment of Griffith Twyning as Register for the three parishes is recorded at the beginning of the volume. In this register a number of marriages which took place before Sir Erasmus Phillipps at Picton Castle and before Richard Castle at Narberth Castle are recorded. The following examples of entries are from the Wiston section of this register:
Jon Mirriman & ffrancis Nash widd' were published in wiston church 3 sev[er]all lords daies / To witt / the last of Aprill the 7th & the 14th of May 1654 & were Maried at Picton Castle by Sir Erasmus Phillipps barr' the 15th day of May 1654. Henry the sonn of Jon Eynon & Mary his wife was borne the 27th of october 1654. Judith Baker widd' was buried the 8th of november 1654.
In the registers where there are entries for the Civil War and Interregnum period it is obvious that they are very defective in many cases because there are so few entries and then only for a few years. In the register of Ruabon, co. Denbigh, for instance, there are very few entries for the period 1644-62. There is less than a page of entries of baptisms between April 1644 and October 1653. On 6 October 1653 there is a long memorandum in the register, signed by a justice of the peace, confirming the appointment of John Powell as Register after he had been chosen by the parishioners in accordance with the law. Following the memorandum there is less than half a page of entries under the heading 'Borne and baptised' which cease in the following January, with one additional entry for 1659. At the bottom of the page there is a note by the curate of Ruabon stating that John Powell 'entered no more names into this books then are above written while he was parish Register viz from Sept: 29; 1653 unto Jun: 1: 1662' when the register was returned to the curate. There is a similar memorandum relating to the burial entries where John Powell is described as 'Parish Register in the fanaticke times'. There are no marriage entries for this period in the register and 'Clandestine justices marriages not entered' has been written alongside the memorandum explaining the gap in the marriage entries.
There may be a satisfactory official explanation for the gap in the entries after 1653 in the Ruabon register. At a meeting of the Denbighshire Quarter Sessions at Ruthin, 4 October 1653, the justices appointed 'Capt Wm. Res to be register for the p[ar]ishes of Wrexham, Ruabon, & Arbistocke & Wrexham to be the place of publication'. 20 Since Wrexham is named as the place of publication it is possible that the entries for the three parishes were made in the Wrexham register.
Unfortunately this cannot be confirmed because the Wrexham register for this period has not survived. At the same meeting three other Registers were appointed, one each for the commotes of Is Dulas, Is Aled and Uwch Dulas. There is evidence in the register of Beaumaris, co. Anglesey, of similar action and that it had been intended to use the register of Beaumaris for the commote of Dindaethwy. It is possible, using ultra-violet light, to read the names of about ten parishes at the top of different pages in the register. The few entries made under these parish headings have been deleted and the pages used for Beaumaris entries at a later period. There are only a few entries for Beaumaris itself for this period and they appear to have been written at a later date because they are not in date order. The entries for births relate to only a few families such as Beane, Hussey and Manley. Most of the marriage entries recorded, they belong to the period 1653-6, took place before one of the bailiffs of the borough, and one each before the mayor and a justice of the peace:
With the Restoration the clergy became responsible for the registers again and returned to the old individual methods of registering baptisms, marriages and burials, in Latin or English. The earliest registers of many parishes start soon after the Restoration. In some registers there is a memorandum welcoming the Restoration. In the register of New Radnor, co. Radnor, it is described as '.. . the reestablishment of the church of God in Trueth and Peace by the blessed returne of or dread Soveraigen Lord Charles the 2d'. Lewis James, the curate of Bedwellte, Co. Monmouth, also recorded the restoration of the King 'after his matees long Travells and Troubles' and also his own restoration to his cure from which he had been ejected.
Be it Remembred That the Twentieth day of June 1650, Lewis James Clre; then Curate of Bedwelltie, was Eiected att Chepstol, and (after his tenne yeares Eiectmt.) he began (againe) to Read & preach in Bedwelltie Church aforesaid, uppon Sunday, being the Twentieth day of May 1660, (Edmund Rosser haveing given over the place ye. Sunday before, 130 Maii 1660.)
Coffins were not commonly used for burials until the eighteenth century. 21 In order to support the woollen industry Parliament enacted laws in 1666 22 and 1678 23 directing the burial of corpses in wool only. Following the 1678 Act it was necessary for an affidavit to be made to the minister within eight days stating that the requirements of the law had been fulfilled. The names of the persons who made the declarations are often noted beside the burial entries in the registers or a note to the same effect follows the entry of burial. The affidavits were recorded in a separate volume in some parishes such as Dolgellau, co. Merioneth, where there is a separate volume for the period 1678-1708. The following is an example of a declaration from that volume in 1694:
I recd an Affidavit the 21th day of Aprill made by Edd. Jon. Ellisae of this p[ar]ish sealed & subscribed by Lewis John & Gryffith ap Richard wittnesses & taken before & subscribed by Jon Owen Cler Miner of Talyllyn in this County of Merioneth that the above registered Gwen vch Humphrey was buried in woollen onely according to ye statute in yt Case made & provided
Maurice Jones Rectr.
There was a fine of £5 for not complying with the Act by burying the corpse in linen or material other than wool. One half of the fine went to the poor of the parish and the other half to the person who provided the information relating to the non-compliance with the law. The Act was not repealed until 1814 24 but it appears to have been generally disregarded long before then. In the register of Abernant, co. Carmarthen, however, the following memorandum was written in August 1800:
An Oath was made before me that the two last were buried in Flannel according to an Act of 30 C 2 Ch 3. But notwithstanding the party belonging to the Burial of Jane W. of Joel David of Pantyllyn have been frequently admonished by me, they totally disregarded my admonition & neglected to comply with the above mentioned Act.
Dd. Lewis Vr. of Abernant.
In 1694 the Crown was granted a tax for five years on every birth, marriage and burial and an annual tax of 1/- upon bachelors and widowers over 25 years of age. 25 These taxes were granted 'for carrying on the war against France with vigour'. There was a graduated scale of taxation, the ordinary rate being 2/- for every birth, 2/6 for every marriage, and 4/- for every burial; paupers were excepted, but a duke for example paid £30 upon the birth of an eldest son. The tax was payable upon birth and not upon christening and in the following year an Act was passed imposing a fine of 40/- upon parents who did not inform the minister within five days of the birth of a child. 26 The parents were to pay sixpence to the clergy for recording the birth of a child who was not christened. There was so much avoidance of the tax, however, that in 1705 an Act was passed to safeguard the clergy from the heavy penalties they had incurred by not applying the law effectively. 27
The next important Act relating to parish registers was passed in 1753. 28 The purpose of the Act was the 'preventing of Clandestine Marriages', which had attained scandalous proportions. It was commonly known as Lord Hardwicke's Act. By this Act all marriages from 25 March 1754 had to be either by licence or after the calling of banns. They were to be solemnised in some church or chapel which had been customarily used for such a purpose and in the parish of residence of one of the parties, unless by special licence. The marriage was to be registered in a volume separate from that used for registering baptisms and burials and there was a prescribed form of entry for banns and marriages. Following this Act .........
..................Nonconformists, apart from Quakers and Jews, had to marry in the established church until the 1836 Marriage Act came into force on 1 July 1837. 29 Register books with the prescribed form of entry printed with blank spaces for the details were published and used in most parishes but manuscript registers with entries written according to the prescribed form were used in a fair number of parishes. There was more than one type of printed register. In one type there was one long entry recording the banns and the marriage together, in the other type the banns and the marriage were recorded separately either in two separate sections within one volume or in two separate volumes. The following example is from the register of Llanbadarn Fawr, co. Cardigan, which is printed according to the first pattern:
Banns of Marriage between Shadrach Jones and Averina Jones were publish'd
on the twenty-first & twenty-eighth Days of April, & on the fifth Day of May 1754.
No. 1. Shadrach Jones of the Parish of Llanfihangel Geneu'r Glin
Miller and Averina Jones of this
Parish Spinster were
Married in this Church by Banns
this Tenth Day of May in the Year One Thousand Seven Hun-
dred and fifty four by me John Edwards Cler, Vicar.
This Marriage was solemnized between Us Shadrach Jones
the mark of
Averina A J Jones
In the Presence of Thomas John
There are marriage entries in Welsh according to the prescribed form in the manuscript register of Llanllwchaearn, co. Cardigan, from 1754 to 1761, and in the manuscript register of Llanhywel and Llandeloy, co. Pembroke, from 1754 to 1765.
The clandestine marriages, which the 1753 Marriage Act was intended to prevent, are sometimes noted in the parish registers. In the register of Llawhaden and Bletherston, Co. Pembroke, four such marriages are listed in 1748 and there may have been more because the bottom of the page has been cut off. Occasionally there are references in the baptismal entries as in the following entry from the register of Dolgellau, co. Merioneth in 1733:
Catherine the daughter of William Jones and Ursula his pretended wife by a Clandestine Marriage was baptised the third day of June.
At least two types of register with printed forms for recording baptisms and burials were published before the end of the eighteenth century. In 1781 J. Nichols of London published registers entitled Proposed Form of Register for Baptisms and Proposed Form of Register for Burials. The volumes have an interesting introduction which refers to the various orders and laws relating to the keeping of registers and suggests improvements in the methods of caring for churchyards. Six pages were set aside at the end of the volume, two pages for an alphabetical index to facilitate the searching of the register, and four pages for noting happenings of interest .....................
.................... in the parish. The pattern for the entries can be seen from the following column headings and entries from the printed registers used in the parish of Hubberston, co. Pembroke, where the entries start in 1783 and continue until 1812:
Name of the Child
Names of the Father and Mother
Thomas Brown, Sailmaker, and Jennet
Name of the Deceafed.
Names of the Father and Mother.
Suppofed Caufe of Death.
 December 26th
Elizabeth Thomas of this Parish
Daughter of Alban Thomas & Mary his Wife
On the North side of the Churchyard
Few printed registers of this pattern appear to have been used but there are a number of manuscript registers with entries made according to a similar pattern in the diocese of Llandaff. The following note from the register of Pen-marc, co. Glamorgan, explains why the pattern was adopted:
New Method of registering, recommended by The Honorable & Right Reverend Father in God Shute, by Divine Permission, Lord Bishop of Landaff, at his fourth triennial Visitation held at Landaff June 28th 1781.
The following is an example of a burial entry according to this new method from the Pen-marc register in 1781:
Supposed cause of death
Mary Williams formerly Mary Morgan
Wife of Miles William now of St Lithans
Old age and decay of constitution
A few yards (East by North) from the Cross
Shute Barrington, the bishop of Llandaff, who recommended the new method was translated to Salisbury in 1782. His translation from the diocese and the fact that another type of printed register for baptisms and burials was published, following the Stamp Act of 1783, 30 probably explains why this pattern for entries was discontinued after a few years in most of the registers where it had been adopted. In the parish of Aberavon however the cause of death was stated until 1794 although the new type of printed register was used from 1783 onwards and the additional information had to be written in the margin of the new burial register.
The Stamp Act of 1783 granted to the King a stamp duty of three pence on every entry of birth or christening, marriage or burial, in the parish registers. The Act was extended to include Nonconformists in 1785 31 and repealed in 1794. 32 Printed registers for births or christenings and for burials were published following..................
................. the Act. The printed registers are described as being conformable to the Act and contain some details relating to the Act. The incumbent often noted in these registers and in the manuscript registers of the period when he had 'paid the King's money'. The following extracts from the printed register used in the parish of Ludchurch, co. Pembroke, show the pattern of the entries:
John Sear son ....... of William and Esther Sear ...............................
....was Born June the 29th 1790 and Christened July the 4th 1790
Registered July the 5th 1790 ..............................by me John Evans Officiat'g Minister
Elizabeth Morris .........aged 64 of the Parish of Crunwear
in the County of Pembroke................was buried October the 7th 1790
Registered October the 7th by me John Evans Officiat'g Minister
Printed registers according to the same pattern were published after the repeal of the Stamp Act but often the details relating to the date of birth and the age of the deceased were not given although space was provided for these details.
The next important legislation relating to parish registers was passed in 1812 and became operative on 1 January, 1813 33 This act, known as Rose's Act, required baptisms, marriages and burials to be registered in three separate volumes, which were to be printed according to a prescribed form. Every page of the register was to be numbered and every entry progressively numbered from the beginning to the end of the volume. The Act also laid down rules for making the entries, the annual transmission of transcripts of the entries to the diocesan registrar, and for the safe custody of the registers. The set pattern for the entries may have resulted in some useful additional information not being recorded. The Act did however ensure that some details, not given regularly in many registers previously, such as the age at death in the burial entries, and the occupation or status of the father in the entries for baptisms, were now recorded regularly. Some officiating ministers continued to give additional information in the margin of the printed registers fairly consistently as will be shown later but only the minimum required details are generally recorded. The pattern of the entries for baptisms and burials is shown by the following page and column headings:
BAPTISMS solemnized in the Parish of ......................
in the County of ................................................. in the Year 18.......
Child's Christian Name.
Quality, Trade, or Profession.
By whom the Ceremony was performed
BURIALS in the Parish of ...............................
in the County of ........................................................ in the Year 18....
By whom the Ceremony was performed
The pattern for marriage entries was similar to that set by Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act of 1753 except that a phrase was added to indicate the consent of parents or guardians in the case of minors.
The civil registration of births, marriages and deaths was introduced in England and Wales on 1 July, 1837. 34 This did not affect the patterns of registering baptisms and burials in the parish registers which have continued according to the patterns introduced in 1813. A new form of marriage register was introduced to provide the same details as the civil marriage registers according to the following pattern:
1837. Marriage solemnized at the Parish Church in the Parish of Newcastle in the County of Glamorgan
Rank or Profession.
Residence at the Time of Marriage.
Father's Name and Surname
Rank or Profession
of full Age
Married in the Parish Church according to the Rites and Ceremonies of the Established Church after Banns by me,
T. Hancorne Vicar
Two copies of the marriage register had to be kept, one of which was to be forwarded to the Superintendent Registrar when full. In many rural parishes in Wales the marriage register introduced in 1837 was not fully used in April 1971 when all the duplicate marriage registers were called in upon the introduction of bilingual registers.
The general history of the registers has been related, a more detailed description will now be given of their contents. Before the introduction of registers with prescribed forms of entry the form and the details given in the entries often varied a great deal even within a register volume. Many registers were kept in a very unsatisfactory manner. Sometimes the entries for baptisms, marriages and burials were intermixed, at other times the different types of entry were made on separate pages or in separate sections within a register volume. In some registers the entries were made in three columns on the same page. When the different types of entry were entered on separate pages it is often difficult to be sure of the correct date of an entry because the entries for baptisms and burials are far more numerous than the entries for marriages. When there was no space in the appropriate place entries were often made wherever space was available. The title at the top of a page can be misleading --- the title Christenings is found at the top of the page in the register of Berriew, co. Montgomery, for the late seventeenth century, but entries for marriages were made amongst the entries for baptisms. If a clergyman was responsible for more than one parish he sometimes used the register of one parish .................
...............for the other parish also and it is therefore worth checking the register of a neighbouring or associated parish if an entry cannot be found in the appropriate place.
Apart from the obvious deficiencies in the registers when there are gaps in the entries, sometimes for a number of years, the entries in other periods are often incomplete and inaccurate. Shute Barrington, whose recommendations for the better keeping of the registers in 1781, when he was bishop of Llandaff, have been mentioned, refers to the unsatisfactory condition of parish registers in A Letter to the Clergy of the Diocese of Sarum in 1789. He states that 'The principal cause to which omissions and errors in names and dates may with most probability be attributed, is not making the entries at the time'. He is obviously referring to another common abuse when he states 'But nothing, I am confident, will induce any of you to consign this task to the parish clerk, in abuse of the trust, and in defiance of law'. It is obvious from the barely literate nature of the entries that many of the clergy did entrust the work of keeping the register to some parish official. The rector of Llangibby, co. Monmouth, was dissatisfied with the work of his curate, to whom he had entrusted the writing of the register in the middle of the eighteenth century. The rector transcribed the entries 'being ashamed of the illiterate incorrect dirty writing of Abednego Prichard'.
Most of the neatest registers are copies written up from notes or transcripts of older registers. This is obvious from the regularity of the writing of the entries and the fact that the entries for baptisms, marriages and burials have been written in order in three series of entries for the whole year without any gaps between the different types of entry. Sometimes there is a note in the register stating that it has been transcribed from an older register. The present earliest register of Bedwellte, co. Monmouth, which starts with entries for 1624, was mostly written in 1659 as explained in a long note addressed to the 'Courteous Reader'. Lewis James, curate of Bedwellte, states that he had found the entries for the years 1624-33 'in some few loose & scattered leaves of Parchmt (in the Church=Coffer)'. He had written these entries again in an old register book bought at Bristol in 1636 together with all the entries from 4 August 1633 to 25 March 1659. He had then written a transcript of the old register 'in this Booke' which was used as a register after 1659.
Various attempts were made to improve the manner in which the registers were kept. The orders of the consistory court of the diocese of Bangor in 1743 relating to the better keeping of the registers, and specifying the details to be given in the entries, are found copied into the registers of many parishes in that diocese. In the register of Llanfair iuxta Harlech, co. Merioneth, it is stated that the orders were issued because 'it hath been found by Experience that Parish Register Books have been imperfectly kept hitherto in this Diocese not answering the Ends of Registers for want of more particular Entries . . .' Forms of entry recommended by the diocesan registry are found in some other registers, such as Llanelli, co. Brecon, in 1804. Unfortunately the improvements recommended were not adhered to for very long in many registers.
There are gaps in the records of some parishes because there was a delay before obtaining a new register and the entries for the intervening years, probably kept on loose papers, have been lost. More serious are the gaps in the records because a register volume has been lost. Notes in a number of registers stating that they have been returned from private hands indicate one of the ways in which many registers were lost. One register, dating from the sixteenth century, was found in a collection of estate papers deposited in the National Library of Wales. Other registers have been lost through fires. The registers of the parish of Christchurch, co. Monmouth, have suffered a great deal because of fires. The oldest register of Christchurch in 1922, according to Sir Joseph Bradney, 35 was a volume containing entries starting in 169[ ]. It was then in a very bad order, damaged by water and eaten by mice. It appears that there had been a fire in the church in 1877 when the registers were probably damaged by water. Another fire in 1949 virtually destroyed the earliest registers. Apart from such major disasters the registers have also suffered greatly because they have been kept in unsatisfactory conditions and in some instances registers have been deliberately mutilated when entries and even pages have been cut out.
The use of Latin and English in the registers has been mentioned and also the fact that Welsh was occasionally used. The following example from the register of Llanegwad, co. Carmarthen, where the entries for 1755 are in Welsh, gives the headings and extracts from the entries:
Bedyddieu yn y Fl. 1755 [Baptisms]
Ion. 10fed Elsbet m. Ifan Dafydd a Criswel wg. fed.
22 Sara in. Dafydd Morgan ac Ann wg. fed.
Angladdeu yn y fl. 1755 [Funerals]
Hyd. 5 Mari m. Wiliam Rhisiard (Telynor).
6 Marged, Gwraig Rhys Wiliam.
7 Dafydd Rys (Gof).
Priodaseu yn Llan Egwad yn fl. 1755. [Marriages]
Awst 8fed Sion Sions a Margred Risiart
15ed Dafydd Morgan a Sara Manuel
It was during the eighteenth century that the traditional Welsh mode of naming (using 'ap' or 'ferch') died out generally but the period when this happened varies greatly in different parts of the country. The custom of taking the father's Christian name as the second name of the child remained fairly common in some areas until the early nineteenth century. It is very difficult to decide when a patronymic has become an established surname in many areas because there is no consistency in the usage. The form of the name recorded in the register probably depended on the attitude of the person making the entry. Occasionally there is direct evidence of anglicisation as in the following entry in the register of Caerwys, co. Flint:
John (Named Sion) son of Henry Williams by Catherine his Wife was Baptd. 2d June 1728
It appears that most of the old Welsh female names, such as Dyddgu, Elliw, Gwenhwyfar, Gwerfyl and Mallt, died out generally at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Other names such as Gwen, Gwenllian, and Gwladys continued to be used without a break until the present time when many of the other names have regained their popularity. It is unfortunate also that most of the old Welsh surnames did not survive to a greater extent to add variety and interest to the present Welsh surnames. Most of these surnames were based on Welsh personal names and place names e.g. Brochwel, Llywarch, Ynyr, Dedwith, Mwyndeg, Brwynog, Bodwrda, Carreg, Nannau and Narberth.
Another source of Welshness in the registers are the aliases, which are usually Welsh, and generally refer to some physical feature, occupation or place of origin, and occasionally to the person's character. The following are a selection of aliases extracted from various registers:
John Gruffith als Mon ( Anglesey, Tremeirchion, co. Flint, 1635).
Riceus Gruffith ales Rees velynyth ( miller, Llanidloes, co. Montgomery, 1619).
Thomas William (vocatus y Coch mud) ( the red mute, Bedwellte, co. Monmouth, 1638).
Johannis Evan alias Carwr merch ( woman lover, Llanfyllin, co. Montgomery, 1696).
Joseph Thomas als Pobman ( everywhere, Llangatwg feibion Afel, co. Monmouth, 1702/3).
David Powell alias Penfelyn ( yellow head, Llywel, co. Brecon, 1763).
John Jones (alias Dimbech) ( Denbigh, Beaumaris, co. Anglesey, 1774).
When Latin was used in the registers Latinised forms of personal names were also usually used. Most of these forms are easily recognisable but a few like Audoenus for Owen and Ludovicus for Lewis are not so obvious. There are lists of Latin forms of personal names and of names of occupations and trades (e.g. faber ferrarius = blacksmith) in National Index of Parish Registers, Vol. I, and other works relating to genealogy and the reading of records. Some unusual Latin forms, such as Pelagius for Morgan, are confirmed by an entry which gives an alias as in the following entry from the register of Llangadfan, co. Montgomery, in April 17I9:
Gulielmus Fil: Morgani (alias Pelagii) Evans et Maria Uxor: ejus de Llangadfan baptiz: fuit decimo quinto Die.
The entries recording baptisms are usually very short. Sometimes only the child's name is given, and in many registers only the names of the child and the father are given until the middle of the eighteenth century. In most registers however the name of the father and the Christian name of the mother is given as in the following entry from the register of Rhoscolyn, co. Anglesey:
Mwyndag the son of John Mwyndag by Catherine his wife was baptized May ye 4th) 1735.
The mother is frequently referred to by her maiden name as in the following entry from Llangybi, co. Caernarfon:
1749 July the 21st was baptised Jane the daughter of Evan John of Pant y moeliaid, Weaver, & Margaret Roberts his wife.
The father's occupation and the place of residence are not generally given but the practice varies a great deal. In some registers the township is stated regularly and in other registers only during short periods. This probably reflects to a certain extent the importance of the townships in the administration of the parishes.
The law required the date of birth to be registered during the period 1644/5 - 1660 but where there are entries in the registers they often record the date of baptism rather than birth. Dates of birth as well as dates of baptism are recorded in many registers in the period 1783-1812. There was a space for recording the date of birth in the registers published subsequent to the Stamp Act of 1783 but the date of birth is given in many manuscript registers of this period also. The date of birth is recorded in some registers after the repeal of the Stamp Act as in the following entry from the manuscript register of Berriew, co. Montgomery, in 1803:
Elizabeth Daughter of James Baxter Shoemaker and Joyce his wife formerly Joyce Jones of Keel. Born Sept. 2. Baptized Oct. 9.
Dates of birth are given during other periods in some registers, such as Chirk, co. Denbigh, during the period 1705-58. It is unusual to find the dates of birth and baptism recorded for over a century as in the registers of Llanfyllin, co. Montgomery, where the dates are given from 1708 to 1812. The date of birth can be very important because the year of baptism may not be the year of birth.
There is a great diversity in the mode of registering illegitimate children. The words most often used to describe the child are base, bastard, illegitimate, spurious (and their Latin equivalents). There is a more indulgent tone to the word natural which is also used frequently. In some registers only the child's name is given as in the following entry from the parish of St. Mary, Pembroke:
John Morgan a Natural Child Bap'd June 9th 1805.
Usually however, the name of the father and the mother are given but entries with only the name of the father or the mother are also common. The following examples show how the phraseology varies:
Panteg, co. Monmouth, 25 March 1600.
Baptizatus fuit Rogerus filius adulterinus ludovici John Rosser vicessimo quinto die martii Ano Dni millesimo Sex centesimo.
Llandegfan, co. Anglesey, 1634.
Willia[m] David the sonne of David ap John begotten in adultery bap November the xxo
Llanfachreth, Co. Merioneth.
Anna filia notha Elizei ap Hugh ap Willia[m] et Jana vch david Baptizata fuit decimo
sexto die octobris 1662.
Llanbedr, co. Merioneth.
Elizabetha filia Janae v[er]ch humphrey ex eius corpore per quendam Antonium
Lewis in fornicatione suscitata baptizata fuit vicessimo quinto die 10bris Ao dni
Trefeglwys, Co. Montgomery.
1689. Maria spuria Mauricei Lewis & Annae Pugh bap: fuit decimo die Novembris.
Llangibby, co. Monmouth.
1732. Florence a base born Child of George Watkin of Caerleon May 7.
1760. Sarah illegitimate Daughter of Sarah Philips 18 May.
Amlwch, co. Anglesey, 1778, February.
John Natural son of Thomas Edwards Blacksmith by Anne Brynker his Concubine
It is probable that many of the parents named in entries such as the last were recognised as married by the society in which they lived but that they had not gone through a form of marriage recognised by the recording clergyman. There appears however to be ample justification for the condemnation expressed in the following entry from the register of Abergele, co. Denbigh, in 1766:
July 26. Bap. Elizabeth Daughtr. and Bastarde of Robt. Vaughan by his middle wife he having at this time 3 wifes living. O Villain!
When the father's name is not known or not admitted the phrase filius populi or son of the people is sometimes used. The Welsh equivalent 'Mab un or bobl' is used in a Welsh entry in Penderyn, co. Brecon, in 1769. A different expression is used in the register of Margam, co. Glamorgan, in December 1752:
Elizabeth ye Daur of God knows whom by Anne Taylor 21st.
The following are some examples of entries where the father's name is not admitted or certain:
Grosmont, co. Monmouth.
Chatteryn filia pop[u]li but as her mother said to be the dawght[er] of John ap John ye 10 day of June.
Will'mus filius pop[u]li sed mat[er] eius ait filius Phillippi Sayer baptizatus fuit primo die Dece[m]bris Ao Dni 1601.
Joane filia populi as her mother Maud Tho. Harrie saith was baptized ye 13 of September Anno p[re]dicto.
Pendeulwyn (Pendoylan), co. Glamorgan, 1594.
Siscill incerto patre ye daughter of malt Griffith ali[a]s goch was bapt on saturday ye 21th de'ber 1594.
Kerry, co. Montgomery.
Edwardus filius putatus Hugonis Mores ex corpore gwennae talent bapt fuit decimo quarto die Junii 1619.
Alicia reputat' filia davidis ap Ievan nata ex Anna verch David Baptizat' fuit eodem die [24 Nov. 1624].
Forden, co. Montgomery, 1664.
William the supposed bastard sonne of William dackws, begotten upon the body of Elizabeth hughes was baptized the first daye of Maye 1664.
The importance of the poor law in parochial administration often resulted in more details being given in entries relating to illegitimate children than in entries relating to legitimate children, e.g.
Llandough iuxta Cowbridge, co. Glamorgan.
Thomas the natural son of Thomas Hopkin of the parish of Lequeth and Elizabeth Walter who swore herself Legal Inhabitant of this Parish was Baptized the 27th day of June 1744.
Often the father of the illegitimate child or some other person is stated to have indemnified the parish from liability for maintaining the child as in the following examples:
Tremeirchion, co. Flint, 1658.
John the illegitimat sonne of Gruffith Evans was baptized the 11th day of October & he promised to pay for the nurtering of the said child & to save the parish harmeles 1658.
Llandyfrydog, co. Anglesey, 1703.
July 17th Katherine a base daughter of John Oliver of the parish of Llanbabo a fidler, & Elin Hughes Spinste[r]. Richard Hughes of Hendre being security to indempnify the parish.
The importance of settlement rights is apparent from other baptismal entries where the child is legitimate, e.g.
Trefilan, co. Cardigan, April 1738.
The same day Margaret the Daughter of William Thomas (haveing not obtained a Legal Settlement in the parish of Trevilan) and Margaret, his Wife was Baptized.
Parishes tried to get rid of persons who were likely to become liabilities and obtained orders for their removal to their parishes of settlement e.g.
Llywel, Co. Brecon, 1756.
Edward A Bastard Child of Edward Lloyd of the parish of Landilo Vawr in the County of Carmarthen by Margaret Edward removd Here by Order of the Justices of the said County of Carmarthen, as a proper Place of her Settlement, from the Parish of Langadock in the said County was baptiz'd the same day, being ye 6th of April 1756.
Llanidloes, co. Montgomery, 1792.
David Son illegittimate of David William Bachelor by Margret Morgan a Parishioner of Llanbadarn fawr Cardiganshire Bapt. 6th Nov.
The said Morgan was sent by an Order from Llanbadarnfawr to Llanidloes at which time she was delivered of the said illegitimate child tho a Parishioner of Llanbadarn by Virtue of her father's Certificate.
Baptismal entries relating to the children of the clergy and the gentry often contain much more information than normal entries, e.g.
Flemingston, co. Glamorgan, 1634.
William the sonne of John powell rector of flimstonn was borne the xviith day of aprill being thursday about v a clock in the morning anno domini / 1634 / and baptized the xxth of aprill anno predicto by mr price of saint athans, robert deere, of saint marie church and thomas ab Ieuan of flimstonne being his godfathers and gwladys Rees of flimstonn being his godmother.
Llansadwrn, co. Anglesey, 1611.
Richard owen theodor soonn and heire unto Richard owen of penmynydd was borne the xxviith of maii and baptised the last of maii att penmynydd
Jasper Prise of Bodowyr and )
Richard meirik of bodorgan ) Godfathers
The latter entry relates to the Tudor family of Penmynydd. In other entries additional details are given because of some unusual features e.g.
Llanllechid, co. Caernarfon, 1751.
John ye son of Willm John Griffith farmer and Jonet his wife was Xned April ye 3d (2 foot long at 2 days old).
Llyswyrny, co. Glamorgan, 1775.
Decr. 10. Lewis. Son of Lewis Grant (Aged near 80) & Barbara his wife.
It is very unusual to find an entry as long as the following from the register of Llangernyw, co. Denbigh, 1692/3:
Thomas a bastard childe of one Elizabeth John Owen & an unknown father was baptized the 2d. of february about the 5th yeare of his age, att the request of the people that nursed & maintained him, who declared publickly that they did veryly believe that he never was christened before, his mother haveing (after she brought him to this parish from London) run away & left him when he was but a few weekes old; Nevertheless when he was bapt: these words were used viz: Oni ddarfu dy fedyddio di eusus Thomas yr wyf i yn dy fedyddio di yn Enw'r Tad etc.
Sometimes there are references to the custom of baptising children on the coin of their father or their mother as in the following entry from Penderyn, co. Brecon, in 1797:
March 18 Rees the son of William Thomas by Gwenllian his wife was baptised in Church on his Mother's coffin.
The marriage entries had to be made according to a prescribed form from 25 March 1754. Previous to that date it is unusual for details other than the names of the parties and their parishes and occasionally the bridegroom's occupation to be given. Some examples have been given of marriage entries from the sixteenth century, the period 1653-60, and of the forms prescribed after 25 March 1754. Most marriages entries before 1754 give the names of the bridegroom and bride but sometimes only the Christian name of the bride is given as in the following entry from the register of St. Asaph, co. Flint:
Hugh ap John grigor of gwickwar and elizabeth his wife were maried the viith day of Septembre 1611.
The following examples give some of the forms used in the marriage entries before 25 March 1754:
St. Ishmael, Co. Carmarthen.
Junii Ano dni 1561
22 Copulati fuerunt in matrimonio
Owen John Meyricke et Margerett John gower
Llan-soe, co. Monmouth.
Phillip Taylor and Gwenllian the
ultimo Junii servant of william Lewes of
Ano dni 1625 Lansoy were yoyned together
in the holie state of Matremonie
the last day of June Anno dni 1625.
Llanidan, co. Anglesey, 1670.
David Morgan in uxorem duxit
Lowriam vch Davidd tertio die Maii
Llanerfyl, co. Montgomery.
Matrimonium solemniter contractum fuit
inter Evan' Rees parochiae de Llangadfan
et Mariam Morgan huius parochiae
vicessimo 8o die Decembris 1701.
Llansadwrn, co. Anglesey.
Conubio ) Rogerus Wms & Catharina
juncti ) Robts 14to Julii 1721
Llandrinio, co. Montgomery, 1730.
David Jones de Llanfyllin et Maria
Roberts de Llandrinio Matrimonia conjuncti
fuerunt Vicessimo Die Mensis Decembris.
The parish of residence of the parties is given in many registers before 1754 and in a few registers other additional information is often given e.g.
Llywel, co. Brecon.
Banns Rees Lewis Labourer de Trayan Glas & Gwenllian the Relict of Thomas Morgan Inn-Keeper at Trecastle within Trayan mawr were married Jan the 13th 1706/7
St. Clears, co. Carmarthen.
James Rees of Llanvihangel Abercowyn Parish and Dorothy John Widdow of Rees Hugh, at the time of his Death Dairyman at Plas-bach, were married the Eighteenth day of October 1707.
William Griffith and Mawd Thomas daughter of Thomas Rees, late Herd at Pen y Coed deceased, were married the One and Twentieth day of October 1710.
In most registers, however, only the names of the parties are given with a little additional information in exceptional cases as in the following extracts from the register of St. Davids, co. Pembroke:
1725 Decembr 4th Capt: Davies of Caermarthen Shire & Elizabeth Howells by Mr. Jones before seven o clock.
1730[/1] March 2 Nicholas Jenkins & Martha Morgan Quaker woman.
1734 June 28 John Harries of Tregwint & Eliz Gough of Llandigyge were privatly married / as informed / by one Davies of Wiston & afterwards by Mr. Allen of Mathery
1741 May 1st David Morgan & Rachel Wilkin were married at Crondal Mountain by Thos. Davies.
It is exceptional to find the ages of the bridegroom and bride and the names of the parents given before 1837. These details are given in a number of entries in the period 1783-5 and in 1803 in the marriage register of Llansilin, co. Denbigh. The following descriptions are extracted from the banns section of two marriage entries in that register in 1783:
Thomas Morris of this parish, bachelor, son of Morris Thomas farmer, by Mary his wife, aged 23. and Catherine Roberts of this parish, spinster daughter of Edward Roberts, farmer, by Catherine his wife, aged 24.
William Williams of this parish, bachelor, son of Owen Williams farmer deceased by Mary his wife, aged 31, & Elizabeth Morris of this parish, spinster, daur of Morris Thomas farmer by Mary his wife aged 22.
These extracts also show how difficult it is to decide whether a second name is a patronymic or an established surname since the custom varies within a parish.
If a marriage entry cannot be found in the parish of residence of either party it could have taken place in another parish by licence or it could have been a clandestine marriage. Marriages by licence are often found in towns or in parishes where a clergyman had authority to issue licences. There are many marriages by licence in the register of Mathern, co. Monmouth, where the bishops of Llandaff had a residence. Sometimes in this register the licence is described as a verbal licence from the chancellor or the bishop as in the following example:
James Richards & Mary Evans both of Chepstow were married at Mathern on Thursday July 13th 1693. By a Verball License fro[m] my Lord Bishop.
In the register of Holyhead, co. Anglesey, in the mid-eighteenth century period, there are many marriages by licence of parties described as being from parishes in Ireland. In the register of Beaumaris, co. Anglesey, a note appended to the entry of marriage by licence of John Bodychen Sparrow and Ann Lewis, on 10 August 1773, states that the parties had been married in Scotland in May 1772. Upon checking the licence in the records of the diocese of Bangor, deposited in the National Library of Wales, it is seen that they were both eighteen in 1772 and had married at Gretna Green. The two fathers gave their consent to the regular marriage by licence the following year.
The register of banns which came into use following the Marriage Act of 1753 can be very useful when searching for a marriage especially when the marriage register is missing. Although the entries in the banns register do not prove that the marriage took place it is probable that it did in most cases. The banns entries also give some information about the parties and indicate another parish where the marriage ceremony could have been performed.
The burial entries contain additional information more often than the entries of baptisms and marriages. Accidents, murder, fever, plague and advanced age are matters which were most frequently noted. The fact that the deceased was an infant is often noted also. The entries for the burial of children are very numerous especially in the industrial areas, such as Merthyr Tudful, in the first part of the last century. It was a violent death which usually elicited the greatest detail as in the following entry from the register of Tremeirchion, Co. Flint:
There was a traveller murthered by his fellowe traveller at the towneshippe of Bryngwyn the 14th day of febr' 1652 whose name was unknown: the man that was there & then murthered was tall of Stature: of Reddish haire & Complexion, thicke beard'd about the Cheekes, being also by report a Leuietenant in the warres at Ireland & returning home was [ ] & interred at Dymerchions Churchyeard neare the wall al[ ]
In the register of St. Mary, Monmouth, there are a number of entries relating to soldiers killed during the Civil War. The following entries relate to burials on 12 February, 1642/3:
Sr Richard Lawdey ... Baronett Sergeant major generall for his m'y in South-Wales & Colonell of a Regiment of dragooners.
Randoll wallinger leiftenant to a troope of horse under ye comand of cap: kemys. Captains Burke yt comanded Colonell Lawdey his company: these three slayne at ye taking of Colford in ye forest were buried in Month Church.
Burials within the church are recorded in a number of registers. The following extracts are from the register of Kerry, co. Montgomery, in 1636 and 1637:
Marry the daugter of Mr. John Price was buried upon the xviiith day of december [in] the seate of Erasmus Evans.
Jane the wife of John James was buried in the south Channcell upon the xxiith day of december 1636.
Jane the daughter of James ap John ap Owen was buried in the freehoulders seate 11o Februarri 1636[/7].
James ap John ap Rydd[erch] was buried in the north ile belowe the fontston the first day m'ch 1636[/7]
Burial entries where the name of the deceased is not known or not recorded are fairly common but not usually as frequent as the following entries from the register of Llanbadarn Fawr, co. Cardigan, in June and August 1772:
June 10. Sailor Drown'd at Aberystwyth's Harbour
'' 10. Young Man from Sarneu Duon
'' 28. A Child from Drefechan
Aug. 25. Woman from blaen ceulan
'' 25. A Child from the Turnpike Hous
Normally the name of the person is recorded, sometimes with the name of the township or hamlet and occasionally the name of the place of residence. The age of the deceased is given in some parishes during certain periods, especially in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. From 1813 onwards the age at death was part of the required details in burial entries. The age is also given in individual entries in many registers when the deceased had lived to a ripe old age as in the following entry from the register of St. Donats, co. Glamorgan, in 1792:
John Harry of this Parish was buried here on this 24th May aged 110 years, remarkable
not for his Longevity only, but He retained his faculties to within a few Hours of his
Death. He had to see his great grand Children walk before Him.
Sometimes the clergy record their opinion of the deceased as in the following entry from the register of Llanidan, co. Anglesey, in 1710:
Sepulta Elizabetha Williams uxor Hugonis Evans de trevarthen mulier pia ac charitatis admodum colens 15 die Junii.
There appears to be a genuine feeling of personal loss in this entry from the register of Llanwynno, co. Glamorgan, in 1735
Sept 7th Buried then my Dear & worthy friend Mary the beloved Consort of Mr. Morgan's of Manachty.
The vicar of Llanbadarn Trefeglwys, co. Cardigan, in the mid-nineteenth century, used such phrases as 'True Xtian Israelite indeed' to describe some of his deceased parishioners. The fact that a man is described as a 'bard' or 'poet' rather than by his occupation also tells us what was considered his most important attribute at the time of his death:
Margam, co. Glamorgan, 1728/9.
John Evans ye Welch Bard was buried Feb. 10.
Pen-boyr, co. Carmarthen, 1800.
July 28 Enoch Jenkins was buried aged 75 Poet.
The harshness of life is often reflected in burial entries especially in connection with vagrants and the poor as in the following examples.
Caerwent, co. Monmouth, 1597.
Aprilis Johan Clearte alias scholaige a poore woma[n] of the parishe of Skinfrith
25 wch came begginge to this parishe wth ii litell childerne was buried on
saint Marks daie beinge the xxvth daie of Apriell her husband name as
she said was Richard Johnes a lettice windo maker
Maii [Briget?] one of the childern of this poore woma[n] was buried the first
1o of maie.
Junii A poore ma[n] wch was a prisoner and acquited at the quarter assics at
9 Chepstowe & burned in the hande was buried the ixth of June.
Welshpool, Co. Montgomery, 1698 and 1699.
[May 1698] Buried ye 22th Jane Jones A Stubburne vacabond Refusing to Discouer
who She was: was committed to ye house of Correction and there Deceased.
[December Buried ye 13 Catherin a poor woman yt was sent from Constable to
1699] Constable by a warrant of a justice of peace.
Llangernyw, co. Denbigh, 1698 and 1699.
Elizabeth Cadwalad beggar who dyed on ye high way was buryed ye
24th day of June 1698.
A strange beggar, called John, whose sirname & home are not yett known,
dyed att Rhose y Mawn & was buryed the 8th of December 1699.
The stability of society in former times is often emphasised but it is surprising how often there are references to sojourners and travelling people in the registers.
The cause of death was often recorded when there was an epidemic or if it was the result of a contagious disease such as smallpox. There is interesting additional information in the following entry from the register of St. Donats, co. Glamorgan, in 1783:
Ann Daughter of William Pugh & Ann his wife who came here to exhibit a Puppet Show, she fell ill in ye Small Pox & died & was buried on ye 27th of May.
Presteigne suffered greatly from plagues in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. 36 The magnitude of the 1593 plague is clearly seen in the parish register where the burial entries of the plague victims have been marked with the letter 'p'. For the three months July - September 1593 there are 314 burial entries of which 311 are marked with the letter 'p'. The average number of burials for a year during this period was about fifty. In the register of Bedwellte, co. Monmouth, the victims of the plague of 1638 have been marked and the following note is written at the end of the burial entries for the year:
So there died in the said yeare 1638 (in Bedwelltie) 109 persons, whereof there died of the Plague, (as is aforesaid) 82, & 27 of all other diseases.
The date of the beginning of an epidemic is noted in the register of Llandygai, co Caernarfon:
Jan. 4th 1743[/4] the Flux began att Llandegai.
In the same register there is an interesting note in 1757 of the receiving of an offering on the coffin of the deceased:
N. B. That I rec'd an offering of 13sh-6d at Pentre door on ye coffin of the deceas'd Person who went to Llanllechid to be buried.
The amount of the offering received at burials is noted in many other registers.
In the coastal parishes there are naturally entries for burials after shipwrecks and drowning accidents. Often no names or other details are given as in the following entry from Whitford, co. Flint, in March 1765:
15 Bur. 9 Mariners Names unknown.
It appears however that as much information as possible was generally recorded in such entries as is seen from the following examples:
St. Davids, co. Pembroke, 1748/9.
Jany 9 Thos. Nicholas of Trefteio, was drow'd by accident ye 4th of this Instant at
ye wreck of ye ship call'd ye Rose of Liverpool under ye Ddiallt near St. Dds head
29 (years old)
Whitford, co. Flint, 1750/1.
[Feb.] 27. Burd: Francis Robts. & Richd Griffith of Caernarvon Mariners.
Abergele, Co. Denbigh, 1784.
Janry 20 Duncan McCallart Captain of the Sloop Jenny (stranded on this shore)
and three of the Crew (names unknown).
Occasionally entries relating to shipwrecks are kept separately at the beginning or the end of the volume. There are details relating to three shipwrecks at the end of the register of baptisms and burials for 1758-1812 in St. Donats, co. Glamorgan. One entry gives detailed information about three persons buried on 6 September 1774, who were on their passage from Bristol to Ireland and then adds:
These unhappy Persons with 24 more perished in the Ship Elizabeth of Bristol, among whom was Captain Weekes her Commander. The said Ship was wreck'd on the Rocks near Marcross-Cwm.
In the register of Llanfaelog, Anglesey, there are sad notes relating to the identification of bodies by relatives, in one instance after the disinternment of the body.
References to religious nonconformity are most common in burial entries but entries relating to baptisms and marriages are sometimes recorded. There are numerous references to Roman Catholics in the border counties, especially in co. Monmouth. The following entry is from the register of Skenfrith, Co. Monmouth:
1669 will' the sonn of James Bevan & frances his wife bapt: by a Papist october 29.
The word recusant is written after the burial entry for Phellipp Bodunham on 2o November 1669 in the same register. The references are normally very short as in the following entry from the register of Pen-y-clawdd, Co. Monmouth.
1749 Florence Jones (a Rom: Cath:) was buried on ye 1st of November.
It is unusual to find such a detailed entry as the following from the register of St. Maughams, co. Monmouth:
John Williams aged 80. popish Priest who possessed the Grange estate given him by three sisters the proprietors of it, Frances, Mary & Elizabeth Evans, & also a very large property given him by 2 sisters in Abergavenny Mrs. Merediths Valued ut fertur, 20,000 £ was buried December 4 - 93
In the same register the burial of another Roman Catholic priest, Frances Dormer, is entered on 3 February 1770, and there are further details relating to him on another page. On one page of the register of Rockfield, co. Monmouth, the incumbent started to keep 'A Register of all xns burialls and marriages in ye p[ar]ish of Rockfield that have been as I am informed since the 29th of September-1695 to March ye 25th -1696 of the papists or those yt were Xned married and burid contrary to ye Church of England'. Under this title there are ten entries up to November 1696 and one entry for 1701 and then the page is torn. The word 'papist' is used in only one of the entries but most of the emtries probably relate to papists. There are a number of other entries in the register mainly relating to marriages of which the incumbent 'was informed' in the early eighteenth century. The following entry in the same register is more explicit:
Francis Williams of ye p[ar]ish of Rockfield Batch' and Mary Upton vid: were married as he the said Francis told me the 10th day of November 1700 by a Roman Priest they being Romans.
There are very few references to Quakers in the registers. The following entry of baptism in November 1721 is from the register of Llandeilo Fawr, co. Carmarthen, which is divided into columns under the following headings:
There is a very long entry relating to the burial of a Quaker in the register of Glasbury, co. Radnor:
William David of Talgarth commonly called Y Quaker coch was found dead on wy side in a place called Gwerglodd y Garreg# (it is reported yt he made himself away upon discontent because he shd not marry his maide the lord of ye mannor seized on his Goods & his body is in Glasbury churchyard near ye way as Goes to Aberllynvi where noe Good xtians are buried) on ye 27 of November 1688.
#This placename has been crossed out and 'Groe:cegir' written in the margin.
There is an entry relating to the burial of another Quaker in the same register in 1690/1.
William Jenkin, quaker, of ye Velindre was buried ye 25 day of January 1690[/1].
Baptisms by dissenting ministers are recorded in a number of parish registers. There are a number of such entries in the Merthyr Tudful register relating to baptisms in the period 1753-61. The Stamp Act was extended to include dissenters in 1785 and in the register of Whitchurch, Co. Pembroke, for that year, six of the eleven entries are marked with an asterisk which is explained by the following note:
N.B. Those marked were buried & baptized at the Meeting House. Tax 3d each.
The information relating to religious persuasion however depends entirely upon the individual making the entries. There was certainly no obligation to refer to the Methodism of the fathers in the following entries:
Llangian, co. Caernarfon, 1746.
Ellin and Anne twin Daughters of David Hughes o Gwag y Noe Methodist by Anne his wife were baptized October ye 12th and buried October ye 19th.
Llywel, co. Brecon, 1789.
Catherin the Daughter of William Beavan of Tre-escob in Tran-Glaes Turner and Methodist Preacher was buried June ye 4th 1789.
It has already been suggested that the introduction of printed registers with prescribed forms may have resulted in the loss of some additional information which might otherwise have been added. The set pattern, however, did not restrain all clergymen from recording additional information. The vicar of Llanbadarn Trefeglwys, co. Cardigan, in the middle of the last century, regularly gave additional details in the margin of the printed registers, especially relating to the cause of death. Apart from the common causes such as old age and consumption (Decline is the word used) there are two references to witchcraft. In 1840 it is stated 'This young woman was bewitched a little before her death, and in grief from that belief she died', and in 1848 there is a reference to 'Reputed Witchcraft'. In the same register there is much additional information relating to the burial on 9 April 1849 of Thomas -, aged about 70, who had 'Died in the night unseen'. In the margin the following mote is added:
A pauper from near Llanidloes to be raised up up (sic) again money supposed to be in his Coat ---as he was burd in his clothes.
This is followed by quotations in Latin and English. The English couplet reads:
Money, Money is the gen'ral Cry
Whoe'er might suffer, or whoe'er might sigh.
There are occasional marginalia in exceptional cases in other printed registers. In the register of burials for Fishguard, co. Pembroke, in 1832 the following required details are entered in the various columns:
Jemima Nicholas Main street 16th July 82 years Samuel Fenton Vicar.
This is followed by the following note:
This woman was called Jemima vawr i.e. Jemima the great from her heroine acts. She having marched against the French who landed hereabout in 1797 and being of such personal powers as to be able to overcome most men in a fight. I recollect her well. She followed the trade of shoemaker & made me when a little boy several pairs of shoes --- Samuel Fenton.
The parish registers were often used to record other matters apart from the registration of baptisms, marriages and burials. The facts recorded usually relate to matters of importance to the parish such as details of charities, parochial assessments, the rights to seating places in the church and sometimes churchwardens' accounts for a few odd years.
In the register of Talachddu, co. Brecon, for 1601-40, there are churchwardens' accounts for 1616 and 1617, details of parts of the churchyard allotted to the several parishioners 'by the undoubted knowledge of morgan thomas lawrence sette downe in Anno dni 1618', a list of church books in 1623 'to be delivered from churchwardens to churchwardens'. The list includes two bibles (English and Welsh), two communion books (English and Welsh), two books of homilies (English and Welsh), and various orders of prayers and articles of bishops etc. The following memorandum is written under 3 March, 1623:
This very daye were sette in the Churchyards of Talaghthy towarde the South parte thereof vi oken Trees, iiii oakes against the north parte thereof, one holy Tree against the west and one Ashe Tree against the South: v Ashe Trees and one oake Tree ii yeares before, by Thomas Watkin then Covenant servant to Thomas lewis Clerke then parson there.
Apart from these entries relating to parochial matters there are also details of severe frosts (1077- ) and other historical extracts, probably from a published chronicle such as Grafton, and lists of the shires of England and Wales and of the thirty bishops.
Interesting details relating to alterations to the church of Llanerfyl, co. Montgomery, in 1675 are given in the register of that parish. The rood-loft was to be taken down and a gallery erected below the font to provide extra seating for the parishioners. The allotment of seats is recorded and also regulations relating to burials within the church. The boundaries of the parish are described in the register of Glasbury, co. Radnor, and the men who walked the boundaries in 1665 are named and their ages stated. Items such as those which have been cited are usually found written together in a certain section of the register, most often at the end of the volume or in the middle pages. Occasionally items such as the following from the register of St. Ishmael, co. Carmarthen, are found written in the midst of the register entries:
This yeare 1597. Corne was excessive deere through out ye Realme of England: wheat was sould at Carm'then for fortey shillings the bushell and Barley [for] xxvis viiid redy money by Carm'then measure from the like dearth & scarcity god keepe his for Jesus Christ sake Amen Amen.
Details of official collections for charitable purposes, called briefs, are often found in the registers. A brief was a royal mandate for the collection of money for special charitable purposes such as the rebuilding of churches and the relief of sufferers from private or public calamity. 37 The following extracts from entries in the register of Nannerch, co. Flint, indicate the nature of the collections. Some of the entries are not dated but the churchwardens are named:
April 11th 1680
Collected towards the reliefe of the Distressed protestants of Bohemia the sume of two
shillings four pence ...
Nov 23 1680
Collected towards Algiers Captives the sume of thirteen shill[in]gs one penie half penie ...
Collected towards the reliefe of the Inhabitants of Presteigne the sume of one shilling
nine pence ...
Collected towards the repaire of the p[ar]ish church of Kidwelly in Caermarthenshire the sume of two shillings eightpence ...
May ye 9th 1686
Collected towards ye reliefe of ye distressed protestants of ffrance ye sume of five shillings
eight pence halfe peny ...
April l0th 1687
Collected then to John Hughes of Maen-Eva in the parish of Combe the sums of Two
shillings and Two pence ...
Many of the collections noted in the Nannerch register were for the repair or rebuilding of churches, the one towards the building of 'the Cathedrall church of St. Pauls in London' in 1678 raised 6/9 3/4 whilst only one shilling was collected in 1711 for 'St. Maries Church in colchester demolished by ye late Civil wars'. A more general brief was that 'for ye Sufferers by Thunder, Hail etc. in ye County of Stafford' for which one shilling and fourpence was collected in 1720. A collection noted in many registers in 1689 is that for the relief of the 'distressed protestants of Ireland' for whom 13 /6 1/4 was collected in the parish of Llanidan, co. Anglesey, and £2-2-6 in the parish of Cardigan.
There is very little literary material in the registers. Such material is found much more frequently in the vestry books and other books kept by the sexton, parish clerk or churchwardens. It is nearly always in Welsh. Apart from the fairly common quotations from the Classics there are occasionally couplets in English containing advice such as the following at the beginning of the new register for marriages, started after the 1753 Marriage Act, in Pen-Rhos, co. Monmouth
Those that cannot without Wives long tarry
This is the best Way for them to marry.
The couplet written in the middle of the seventeenth century in the register of Berriew, co. Montgomery, contains more proverbial wisdom:
Hee that will not when he may
When he will he shall have nay
There is more literary merit and interest in the following 'englynion' in English written in the same register in a seventeenth century hand:
Time past, time lost, time lustic; I was,
time wasteth my beutie
time passeth away hastie
time and age doth tame mee.
Take heede indeede least you die; in pride
bee war proud vayne glorie,
pride on every side I see
Obbedience hurts no bodie
Although I emphasised at the beginning of this article that a large proportion of the early registers have been lost I trust that I have also shown that what has survived is very valuable. In England the contents of hundreds of parish registers have been published by Parish Register societies and other societies and individuals. The contents of very few Welsh parish registers have been published 38 and it is unlikely that it will be possible to publish their contents in the future because of the prohibitive cost of printing. It is possible however to make a photocopy of every register so that at least one copy of every register is available for use and preservation apart from the original register. Every effort should be made to see that the remaining original registers are properly preserved and repaired by experts wherever necessary and a photocopy made to ensure that what has survived will be preserved for the future.
R. W. McDONALD
P.S. Following recent agreements made by the Representative Body of the Church in Wales with the National Library of Wales and with the majority of the County Councils in Wales, incumbents may deposit parish registers at either the National Library or the appropriate County Record Office. Some parish registers have recently been deposited in the County Record Offices.
Cyhoeddwyd erthygl Gymraeg, ychydig yn wahanol, ar y testun hwn yn Cylchgrawn Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru, Cyfrol XIX, Rhifyn 2, tt. 113-131. Noder y cywiriadau canlynol yn yr erthygl honno:
t 120, II 10-11, col. 3, 'Wife of Miles William'.
t 124, II. 2, 'Do. 28th' [Chwefror].
t 129. II. 25. 'Time past, time lost, time lustie: I was
1 These replies are preserved, in bound volumes according to diocese, with the records of the Church in Wales in the National Library of Wales.
2 Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Vol. XIII, Part II (London, 1893), No. 281. Henry Gee and William John Hardy, Documents Illustrative of English Church History, (London, 1910), 279.
3 e.g. Peniarth 75. See Report on Manuscripts in the Welsh Language, Vol. 1, Part II (London, 1899), 497.
4 Edward Cardwell, Documentary Annals of the Reformed Church of England, Vol. 1, (Oxford, 1844), 11.
5 Henry Gee and William John Hardy, 422-3.
6 Edward Cardwell, Synodalia, Vol. I (Oxford, 1842), 160-1.
7 Ibid., 204-5, and 286-7.
8 J. C. Cox, The Parish Registers of England (London, 1910), 239-40, 264-71. See also D. J. Steel, National Index of Parish Registers, Vol. I (London, 1968), 26, and W. E. Tate, The Parish Chest, third edition (Cambridge, 1969), 52, and 287-8, n. 33.
9 See the list of parish registers in Arthur Meredyth Burke, Key to the Ancient Parish Registers of England & Wales, (London, 19o8), 39-163.
10 This register has recently been deposited in the Clwyd Record Office, Hawarden.
11 See note 6.
12 D. J. Steel, 167-171.
13 The transcripts are preserved with the records of the Church in Wales in the National Library of Wales.
14 4 Geo. II, c.26 (1731).
15 C. H. Firth and R. S. Rait, Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, Vol. II (London, 1911), 455-6.
16 Ibid., 715-18.
17 Ibid., Vol. 1, 583, 601.
18 See note 16.
19 C. H. Firth and R. S. Rait, Vol. II, 1139.
20 N.L.W. Chirk MSS. B1, 60.
21 J. C. Cox, 120-1.
22 18 & 19 Car. II, c.4 (1666).
23 30 Carr. II, c.3 (1678).
24 54 Geo. III, c.108 (1814).
25 6 & 7 W & M, c.6 (1694).
26 7 & 8 W & M, c.35 (1695).
27 4 & 5 Anne, c.23 (1705). Numbered c.12 in the common printed editions.
28 26 Geo. II, c.33 (1753).
29 6 & 7 W IV, c.85 (1836).
30 23 Geo. III, c.67 (1782-3).
31 25 Geo. III, c.75 (1785).
32 34 Geo. III, c.11 (1794).
33 52 Geo. III, c.146 (1812).
34 6 & 7 W IV, c.85 (1836). 6 & 7 W IV, c.86 (1836).
35 N.L.W. MS. 7586, 19v-20r.
36 W. H. Howse, Presteigne past and present (Hereford, 1945), 33.
37 See Wyndham Anstis Bewes, Church Briefs (London, 1896) and Gwynfryn Richards 'Royal Briefs for the Restoration of Churches in Wales', journal of the Historical Society of the Church in Wales, Vol. VI, 50-69, Vol. VII, 25-68, Vol. VIII, 32-57.
38 See A Bibliography of the History of Wales, second edition (Cardiff, 1962), 66-8.