Digging Up Your Roots in Wales


If you bear a Welsh name, or your forefathers emigrated from Wales, you may be interested in tracing your genealogy. This would provide a splendid excuse for a visit to Wales, to enjoy the surroundings in which your family took root, and to search for the details of your ancestry.

However reluctantly we Welsh admit it, Wales is, at least administratively, a part of England and has been since 1536. Consequently, an acquaintance with English genealogical sources will also be of value in researching your Welsh origins. This document provides some additional information not usually covered in regard to English research.


IMPORTANT: It is nearly impossible to do genealogy in Wales until you know the name of your immigrant ancestor, the place he/she lived, and at least one significant date in his/her life.

1. Trace your family in this country until you know something about your earliest U.S. ancestors. Find out when they migrated and from where. Expect discrepancies in names and dates; get proofs where you can to be sure you have the right person.

2. Use home/local facilities thoroughly: Go to the nearest LDS library and ask to look through available Welsh records (most can be borrowed from Salt Lake City). This will add much to your enjoyment and results when you do take the trip to Wales.

3. Write ahead for a "readers card" for each of the libraries you will visit. Tell them what you are looking for. Many will get material out for your visit and they may show you things you wouldn't have known to ask for. Also, this step can save time by reducing red tape. If you must travel with limited time and limited funds, as most of us must, this type of pre-planning is very important. Some facilities require an appointment, which in most cases can be obtained by mail before your arrival.

4. Take completed family group sheets and ancestor charts with you. Many Welsh have the same or similar names. Knowing who the brothers and sisters are will help you sort this out.

5. Start in London. The Public Record Office, Somerset House, St. Catherine's House, the Society of Genealogists and many other sources of vital information are located in London. Since the most common point of arrival when traveling to the U.K. from the United States is London, it is logical to begin where quantities of records are consolidated in a small area.

6. Continue in Aberystwyth. The National Library of Wales has consolidated and preserved many of the records from throughout Wales. Consequently, much time can be saved by checking the National Library before local sources.

7. Allow enough time. Wales is much too beautiful to miss! Plan some time in record repositories and extra time to travel around and see the wonderful sights. Relaxed research interspersed with sightseeing can be much more enjoyable than either activity alone. Also, taking a break from poring over old books and peering at microfilm can improve relationships with your "significant other".

8. Enjoy yourself!


: A 1949 English movie, "A Run for Your Money", about a pair of Welsh coal miners who win a trip to London to see a Wales vs. England rugby match, includes a comic scene in which a railway station master pages one of the heroes on the public address system, calling "Mr. David Jones from Wales, please come to the station master's office." At least a hundred arriving passengers (except our hero) all swarm into the station master's office.

This comedic situation was possible because of the many duplicate names to be found among the Welsh, a common source of confusion in researching Welsh lineage. In addition, variant spellings, pseudonyms and other naming practices are traps for the unwary.

Surnames were not widely used until the Tudor period. Previously, a person was identified by describing him as "son of" his father ("ab" before a name beginning with a vowel, "ap" before a consonant or consonantal "i"), as in Dafydd ap Gwilym, Hywel ab Owain, Llywelyn ap Iorwerth. The later surnames were for the most part formed in one of two ways. The "ab" or "ap" could be fused with the father's name: "ab Owain", "ap Hywel", "ap Rhys", etc. became "Bowen", "Powel(l)", "Prys" (Preece, Price). Or more commonly the English possessive "s" was added to the father's name, as in Roberts, Williams, etc. Older "ap Ieuan" and "ap John" have given us not only "Johns" but in far too many instances "Jones". Medieval appellations which were not, strictly speaking, surnames - such as "Gwyn" or "Llwyd" have frozen into surnames - "Lloyd", "Gwyn(n)", "Gwynne", "Wyn(n)", "Wynne".

By long established and still prevalent custom, poets and sometimes writers of prose as well, have adopted or have had conferred upon them "bardic names' or pseudonyms under which their works may be published, and which may be the most widely known name associated with the individual. Thus, a reference to one of your ancestors as "Islwyn" may indeed be his bardic name, even though you thought it was the Reverend William Thomas.

All of this leads to the following points:

  • Be alert for variant spellings. The older Gruffudd has become, sucessively, Gruffydd, Griffith, and (as a surname) Griffiths.
  • Be extremely watchful for duplicate names. Check names and dates of parents, siblings, uncles and aunts, as well as place names carefully to be sure you have the correct individual.
  • In lists arranged alphabetically, check not only the entries under the "correct" name and all its variants, but also check for possible entries under the given, or "first" name (ie. Dafydd ap Gwylym might be listed under either "D" or "G" depending upon local custom, and/or the education or "Welsh-aware-ness" of the person compiling the list.
  • If your ancestor was well educated, a churchman, a man of letters, participated in the various eisteddfoddau (festivals of poetry and music) held throughout Wales to this day, or gave evidence of similar literary bent, you may find clues by looking for a bardic name - a pseudonym consisting of one or two words that appear to be names but not obviously connected to the family name. There is a lot of literature and music published under bardic names that may not reference given names. Don't discount this possibility. One of the notable characteristics of the Welsh as a race is an appreciation for and fascination with the written, spoken and sung word. Many Welsh have achieved renown for their literary works even though their primary daily occupation may seem far removed.


: Welsh county boundaries were re-drawn in 1974, with the result that the 13 ancient counties were consolidated into 8 modern counties, as shown below. It is helpful to keep this in mind when researching pre-1974 family letters, birth records and other documents, as these sources would obviously use the old county names.

 Modern County            Old Counties
 ---------------------    ----------------------------------- 
Clwyd                    Flintshire, most of Denbighshire, and 
                         part of Merioneth. 
Gwynedd                  Caernarfonshire, Anglesey, most of
                         Merioneth, and part of Denbighshire. 
Dyfed                    Cardiganshire, Carmarthenshire, and 
Powys                    Montgomeryshire, Radnorshire, and
                         most of Breconshire. 
West Glamorgan           Glamorgan was divided into 3 new 
                         counties, with small additions. 
Mid Glamorgan            Derived from Glamorgan, with a small
                         part of Breconshire and a small part of
                         Monmouthshire added. 
South Glamorgan          Derived from Glamorgan with a tiny
                         piece of Monmouthshire added. 
Gwent                    Most of Monmouthshire and a small
                         part of Breconshire. 


Registration of births, marriages and deaths was introduced on 1 July 1837 but as there was no penalty for failure to register until 1875, there may be omissions (particularly births) from the early registers. Superintendent Registrars, who are in charge of registration districts throughout the country, keep registers and send copies quarterly to the General Register Office, where national indexes are compiled.

Events are recorded separately and not in any family order and each entry has to be sought in the quarterly alphabetical indexes of births, marriages or deaths. It costs nothing to search the indexes but the registers themselves are not open to inspection and full information is available only in the form of a copy certificate which has to be purchased. The information in these certificates is of great value to family historians.

Birth Certificates give date and place of birth, the child's forename(s), normally the name and occupation of the father, the name and maiden surname of the mother - with her usual residence if the birth took place elsewhere, and the name and address of the informant for registration.

Marriage Certificates give the names and usually the ages of the contracting parties, their marital status and addresses, the names and occupations of their fathers, the date and place of the marriage and the names of witnesses.

Death Certificates record name(s), date, place, age, cause of death and occupation of the deceased, residence if different from the place of death, and the name and address of the informant for registration. It does not show place of birth or parentage.

Birth certificates give sufficient information to seek the marriage of the parents and from details on marriage certificates it is possible to search for the birth of the two parties.


From 1801 census returns have been made in England and Wales every ten years (except 1941) and they become available for free inspection by the public after 100 years. Returns up to and including 1831 were of numbers only, and did not give names, but from 1841 onwards they provide excellent basic material for family historians. The 1841 returns give names, ages rounded down to the nearest five years, and say whether an individual was born in the county or not. From 1851 the returns give more detailed information - name, relationship to the head of the household, marital status, age, occupation and place of birth. The place of birth is particularly useful as it leads the searcher to the appropriate parish for information before 1837.

The returns for 1841 to 1881, arranged topographically, are now available on microfilm in the Census Room of the Public Record Office, Land Registry Building, Portugal Street, London WC2. As an alternative to personal searches, the Public Record Office will do a search, not exceeding 5000 people, for a fee, and supply the required information if found.

Microfilm copies relating to their own counties are held by either County Libraries or Record Offices and some Area Libraries have the microfilm copies relating to their own areas.

For direct descendants or persons acting on their behalf, the General Register Office, St. Catherine's House, Kingsway, London WC2, will for a fee search the returns for 1891 and 1901 to establish the age and place of birth of named persons, provided they are given the exact address. No information can be supplied from census returns subsequent to 1901.

The Ecclesiastical Census of 1851 is also widely available and might prove useful in determining which places of worship (churches and chapels) existed in an area at the time of the return - 30 March 1851. Details for Wales have been published.

Further information: J. S. W. Gibson, Census returns 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881 on microfilm: A Directory to Local Holdings (Federation of Family History Societies 1982). The Religious Census of 1851, A calendar of the returns relating to Wales, I. G. Jones and D. Williams, Vol. 1. South Wales; I. G. Jones, Vol. 2. North Wales. (University of Wales Press, 1976 and 1981).


From September 1538, the incumbent of every parish was required to keep a register of baptisms, marriages and burials. Some registers survive from the 16th century but for most parishes they survive only from the 17th or even the 18th century. The registers are an invaluable source of reference for family historians - the later registers frequently giving names, dates, places, ages, parents, relationships, etc.

Most original registers for the ancient parishes are now deposited in the appropriate County Record Offices, and the National Library of Wales has registers from over four hundred parishes (in particular those for Powys). Information on the location of the registers of any specific parish in Wales may be obtained from the National Library or the relevant County Record Office. (If writing from abroad, please enclose a self-addressed envelope and two international postal reply coupons). In a few parishes the registers are still held by the incumbent, as are current registers in all parishes. Registers for a few Welsh border parishes are deposited in nearby English record offices.

Some registers have been copied or microfilmed and transcripts etc. are held by the National Library of Wales, County Record Offices and the Society of Genealogists. The Society has published catalogues of their own parish register copies (about 6000) and other copies, giving their location.

Further information: D. J. Steel, National Index of Parish Registers, Vol. 1 General sources of births, marriages and deaths before 1837 (Society of Genealogists, 1968).


From 1598 to about 1860 transcripts of the entries in the parish registers were sent by incumbents annually within a month of Easter to the diocesan registrar. They normally run from Lady Day (25 March) to Lady Day. Few of the early transcripts survive in Wales before 1660 but for most parishes they are available from the second half of the 17th century. The special value of these records is that they frequently fill gaps caused by missing registers and sometimes pre-date the surviving registers. Even where a register survives, transcripts can be useful as they sometimes include information not in the parish register.

Bishop's Transcripts for all the Welsh dioceses are among the diocesan records in the National Library of Wales but those for a few border parishes in English dioceses are in the appropriate English record offices. Most Welsh County Record Offices have detailed lists of the Bishop's Transcripts for their own diocese available at the National Library, and some now have copies of the microfilms of the BTs made by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints some years ago.

The Welsh County Archivists Group and the National Library of Wales are at present preparing a publication which will give the location and covering dates of all Welsh registers and full details of the Bishop's Transcripts.

Further information: J. S. W. Gibson, Transcripts and Marriage Licenses, Bonds and Allegations (Federation of Family History Societies, 1982).


From the 16th to the early 19th century, people (especially the well-to-do) were often married by License, which was obtained from the Bishop of the Diocese, the Archbishop of the Province, or some other lower ecclesiastical authority. The allegations which preceded the granting of the licences often give valuable information about the parties - names, dates, places, ages and groom's occupation. They sometimes name the father of one or both parties.

Marriages License Allegations for Welsh dioceses are in the National Library of Wales and those for Marriage Licenses issued by the Vicar General of the Archbishop of Canterbury are now in Lambeth Palace Library, London. (Welsh dioceses were in the Province of Canterbury until 1920).

Further information: See preceding comments re: Parish Registers.


In general the records of nonconformist denominations have not been kept as consistently as those of the Established Church. It is unusual to find records earlier than the 19th century and where they do exist they often cover wide areas. Nonconformist registers of baptisms and burials up to July 1837 (and those from Doctor Williams Library, 1742 to 1840) may be inspected at the Public Record Office, Chancery Lane, London WC2. (Between 1754 and 1837 marriages of nonconformists, other than Quakers and Jews, were not legal unless celebrated in the parish church of the Church of England).

Microfilm copies of these registers and a few original registers are held by some County Record Offices. Later 19th and 20th century original registers have also been deposited with County Record Offices or the National Library of Wales. Lists of registers deposited are available on request. Registers not transferred may still be with the chapel offices or minister or at the headquarters of the denomination concerned.

Further information: D. J. Steel, National Index of Parish Registers, Vol. 2. Sources for Nonconformist genealogy and family history (Society of Genealogists, 1972).


A few pre-1837 Roman Catholic registers have been deposited in the Public Record Office, Chancery Lane, London WC2, but most registers (which generally date only from the mid-19th century) are still held by the priest-in-charge of the local Roman Catholic church. Some early registers have been printed by the Catholic Record Society and, if tracing Catholic ancestry, this Society of the appropriate diocesan archivist should be consulted.

The Public Record Office and some County Record Offices also have 16th century recusant rolls and 18th century registers of papists' estates and other evidence of Catholic persecution.

Further information: D. J. Steel, National Index of Parish Registers, Vol. 3. Sources for Roman Catholic and Jewish genealogy and family history (Society of Genealogists, 1974).


This index on microfiche has been produced by the Genealogical Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). In some dioceses they met with religious objections from bishops and clergy and so have been able to microfilm rather less than half of the pre-1837 registers of England and Wales.

It is, nevertheless, a very valuable finding-aid and the British Isles Section contains some 45 million entries - the majority baptisms, some marriages but no burials. The most recent date for entries is 1876 but the majority are much earlier. Entries for Wales are arranged as a single unit (not by counties as in England).

The 1981 Edition for the whole country may be seen at Mormon Branch Libraries in London, in the provinces and in Wales. Copies are also held at the Society of Genealogists and the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies. Many County Record Offices and Family History Societies (including some in Wales) have copies for their own area. (Ed. Note: also check local Branch Genealogical Libraries in the U. S.).


Of all the records left by or about our ancestors, probate records are amongst the most valuable, as they mention places, children, relatives, friends, landed and personal property, debts, trading interests, etc. Some disposing of the property of Welsh ancestors exist from the 14th century.

Before 1858.
Probate registries were set up in 1858, but before that time probate was a matter for the Established Church, and wills were proved in the court of the Archdeacon, Bishop or Archbishop having jurisdiction over the place where the deceased died or held property. The original will was generally filed amongst the records of the court, and a register copy was made. The executors were supplied with a probate copy, and many of these survive among family archives in Record Offices.

Wills proved in Welsh dioceses are in the National Library of Wales. (A few for border parishes in English dioceses are in the appropriate English record offices). The National Library has card indexes for most of the wills deposited there and in 1980 published an Index of the Probate Records of the Bangor Consistory Court pre-1700. Further volumes for Bangor and for other dioceses are to follow.

Wills of persons holding land in more than one diocese were proved (where Welsh dioceses were concerned) in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. Wills proved in the PCC - 1383 to 1857 - are in the Public Record Office, Chancery Lane, London WC2. There are printed indexes covering the years 1383 to 1700 and for subsequent years, there are manuscript indexes, one per year to 1857. In response to written applications, the PRO makes a free search in the will and administration calendars for a period of three years from the date of death. If the search proves successful, an estimate is sent to the applicant of the cost of supplying photocopies.

1858 and After.
The Principal Registry of the Family Division (formerly the Principal Probate Registry) holds the indexes of wills proved from 12 January 1858 to the present day. They may be searched free and the wills themselves can be read for a small fee. Copies of wills are obtainable, by post or in person, provided the date of death is known.

Wills proved in District Probate Registries can be inspected there. Their addresses appear in Telephone Directories under "Probate". The Registry covering North East Wales was closed in 1928; its original wills, 1858 to 1928, are now in the Bangor Sub-Registry and the register copies are in the National Library of Wales.

Annual Printed Calendars of Grants of Probate for England and Wales, 1858 to 1928, are held by the National Library of Wales and by Dyfed, Glamorgan and Gwynedd County Record Offices.

Further information: A. J. Camp, Wills and their Whereabouts, 1974. J. S. W. Gibson, A simplified guide to probate jurisdictions: Where to look for wills. (Federation of Family History Societies, 1980).

PRINTED RECORDS, Directories, Electoral Registers, Newspapers

These records are of great value in compiling a family history.

County and Town Directories (generally from the 1820s - but a few from the late 18th century - until the second World War) are excellent contemporary guides to most places. They give a brief description of each town and large parish, list its principal inhabitants and tradesmen and give addresses. They are to be found in the National Library of Wales (Department of Printed Books), County Record Offices, County and Area Libraries, the British Library (Reading Room), the Guildhall Library and the Society of Genealogists' Library.

Electoral Registers were printed from 1832 and many survive from that date. Up to 1867 they give the names of freeholders and taxpayers in each parish. With the extension of the franchise in that year and in 1884 (when almost every male adult was given the vote) the number of names increases considerably. From 1868 the addresses of voters are also given. These registers are available in the National Library of Wales (Department of Printed Books), County Record Offices, County and Area Libraries, the British Library (Reading Room), etc.

Newspapers provide family historians with useful general background information on such matters as obituaries, births, marriages, deaths, trials etc. The largest collection of national and provincial newspapers - chiefly 18th to 20th century - is at the British Library Newspaper Library, Colindale Avenue, London NW9. At the British Library Reference Division, Bloomsbury, is the Burney Collection of 17th and 18th century London newspapers (1603 to 1800).

The National Library of Wales is Wales' copyright library and has an extensive holding but these are not complete for the 19th century. Most County Record Offices have copies or microfilm copies of newspapers published in the 19th and 20th centuries, but in some cases the runs are not complete.

Further information: J. E. Norton, Guide to the National and Provincial Directories of England and Wales...published before 1856 (Royal Historical Society, 1950). 'The Times' Tercentenary Handlist of English and Welsh newspapers, magazines and reviews, 1620 to 1920 (Hodder and Stoughton, 1920).


The records of the county courts of Quarter Sessions are the oldest and most important collection of public records belonging to the historic counties of Wales. The existence of these records was the main reason for the creation of County Record Offices - the majority after the second World War - and initially they were the nucleus of their records.

Some date from the 16th century, and they cover every aspect of county government up to 1889, when most of the administrative functions of Quarter Sessions were transferred to the newly-created County Councils. The records are a potentially rich source for family historians with a wealth of information - names, dates, places, relationships etc. - on a wide variety of activities.

Included in the records are Sessions Rolls, Minute or Order Books, Bastardy Maintenance Orders, Jurors' Lists, Land Tax Assessments, Settlement Orders, Transportation Orders, Indictments, Recognizances, Petitions etc.

Some Welsh Counties have printed calendars of their Quarter Sessions Records.

Further information: J.S.W. Gibson, Quarter Sessions Records for Family Historians: A select list (Federation of Family History Societies, 1982). F.G. Emmmison & Irvine Gray, County Records (The Historical Association, 1967).


From Elizabethan times to the 19th century the relief of the poor was the responsibility of the parish. Overseers of the Poor had the duty of collecting a poor rate from the richer inhabitants and of relieving the poor who were not able to support themselves. The Overseers of the Poor kept detailed accounts and most of these are now in County Record Offices. Their survival has been rather haphazard, but included are various Overseers' Accounts, Poor Rate Books, Settlement Certificates, Removal Orders etc., and they are of great interest to family historians, as they give names, dates, previous and present parishes.

Under the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, parishes were amalgamated into Unions to provide for the poor, and work-houses were set up and became the responsibility of Boards of Guardians. People were admitted to the workhouse if they were destitute.

Union records - admissions and discharges, register, births and deaths registers, outdoor relief lists, etc - cover the period 1837 to 1930, and County Record Offices have records for the Unions formerly in their county. Unions did not follow county boundaries and some parishes were in unions for another county.

Further information: W. E. Tale, The Parish Chest (Cambridge University Press, 1969).


Although school attendance, up to the age of ten, was not compulsory until 1880, Board Schools were established under the 1870 Education Act to supplement the voluntary privately endowed National (church) and British (nonconformist) Schools, which had existed from the beginning of the century. Education became the responsibility of the County Councils in 1902.

Records of British, National, Board and Council schools survive in the Welsh County Record Offices. They include admission registers, from the mid-19th century, giving the pupils' names and addresses of their parents. Log books, kept by head teachers since 1862, often provide information on individual pupils.

Further information: D. J. Steel and L. Taylor, Family History in Schools: Archive exploration, (Philimore, 1973).


The Tithe Commutation Act, 1836, provided for the valuation of lands subject to payment of tithe in order to substitute a money rent for the existing system of payment in kind. In the period 1838 to 1854 an original large-scale tithe map with two copies was prepared for each parish. The original maps were deposited with the Tithe Commissioners, and are now in the Public Record Office. One copy was deposited with the diocesan registrar, and these are now (for parishes in Welsh dioceses) in the National Library of Wales. The other copy was deposited with the incumbent and church wardens of the parish concerned.

The maps are accompanied by a written apportionment, which usually gives the following information for each numbered parcel of land on the map: name of landowner; name of occupier; parcel number on the map; name and description of the property; state of cultivation; quantity in acres, roods and perches; and amount of rent-charge payable in lieu of tithes.

Most County Record Offices in Wales have some of the parish copies mentioned above but they also have copies of tithe maps (mostly photocopies) and apportionments (mostly on microfilm) for parishes in their own county obtained from the National Library.

Further information: J. West, Village Records, (Macmillan 1962).


The National Library of Wales, Welsh County Record Offices and the Libraries of University College of North Wales, Bangor, and University College Swansea, hold family and estate archives (some dating from the 13th century), records of local businesses and industries, societies, political parties, trades union and also solicitors' collections.

Explanatory leaflets providing helpful information for searchers are produced by the National Library and by County Record Offices.



   Awst                     August
   Baban (pl. babanod)      Babe   
   Bach                     Small, little
   Bachgen (pl. bechgyn)    Boy
   Brawd (pl. brodyr)       Brother
   Cymro (pl. Cymry)        Welshman
   Chwaer (pl. chwiorydd)   Sister
   Chwaer-yng-nghyfraith)   Sister in Law
   Chwefror                 February
   Dydd (pl. dyddiau)       Day
   Dyn (pl. dynion)         Man, person
   Ebrill                   April
   Genedigol                Born
   Gorffennaf               July
   Gwr (pl. gwyr)           Man, husband
   Gwraig (pl. gwragedd)    Woman, wife
   Hen                      Old
   Hydref                   October
   Ionawr                   January
   Mab (pl. meibion)        Son, boy
   Mai                      May
   Mam (pl. mamau)          Mother
   Marwodd                  Died
   Mawrth                   March
   Medi                     September
   Mehefin                  June
   Merch (pl. merched)      Daughter, girl
   Nain, mam-gu             Grandmother
   Oed                      Age, aged
   Plentyn (pl. plant)      Child
   Plwyf (pl. plwyfydd)     Parish
   Priod, prioddodd         Married
   Rhagfyr                  December
   Sir                      Shire, county
   Tachwedd                 November
   Tad (pl. tadau)          Father
   Taid, tad-cu             Grandfather
   Tre, tref                Town 

NOTE: A Welsh/English Dictionary will be useful, as many Welsh immigrants continued to speak and write in Welsh in the U.S., especially personal records such as letters and diaries. Also recognize that in many cases bi-lingual people will "switch-hit", writing in both languages within the same document. In addition, abbreviations are common just as in English, consequently "Gorph" may be used in a date as an abbreviation for "Gorffennaf" (July.)

Compiled from variety public sources. : : Daniel L. Parry 10/87 :