Wales is a land of rugged beauty and deep history. Castles dating to Norman times overlook windswept vistas that have remained essentially unchanged for centuries. The Welsh language has been spoken for 1,500 years. The ancient Celtic culture of Wales still proudly shapes its modern identity.
Those with Welsh ancestry are fortunate that so many historical records have survived. Many are available online, but start your search with these three C’s—censuses, civil registrations, and church records.
Welsh Ancestry in Wales Censuses
Census records are a good place to start your Welsh family research because they identify both individuals and the relatives with whom they were living. Censuses of genealogical interest begin in 1841 and are available every 10 years after that until 1911. (The 1921 census will released after its 100-year privacy period expires in 2021.) The 1939 Register of England and Wales, although not a regular national census, contains censuslike information, too.
In Welsh census records, you’ll typically find:
- The names and address of every member of each household
Some censuses also reveal:
- Individuals’ relationships to the head of household
- Language spoken
- Other details
Welsh censuses from 1841 to 1911 and the 1939 register are searchable for free on FamilySearch.org. People with appropriate subscriptions to Ancestry.com and findmypast.com can also search Welsh censuses and the 1939 register on those websites.
Civil Registration Records in Wales
Follow up on what you learn in censuses by searching for individual family members’ civil registration records. Civil registration of all births, marriages, and deaths in Wales began on July 1, 1837. Obtaining civil registration certificates is a two-step process:
- First, look up each life event in quarterly indexes that reveal the citation information needed to order a copy of a certificate. It’s easy to search these indexes on major genealogy websites, including FamilySearch.org. The records date from 1837 to the mid-2000s.
- Next, order a copy of each civil registration record from the General Register Office of the United Kingdom. This order requires a small fee. These records are not online.
Civil registration often records reveal key information not found in the indexes.
For example, on a birth registration you will typically find the following information:
- The child’s name at birth
- Date and place of birth
- Father’s name and occupation
- Mother’s full name
Marriage registers include the following:
- Marital status of bride and groom
- Date and place of marriage
- Names and professions of the fathers of both parties
- Identities of witnesses, who may have been relatives
Death entries include the following:
- Occupation of the decedent
- Cause of death
All these records also identify the informant, or the person who registered the event, who was often a relative.
Welsh Church Records
Beginning in 1538, local parishes of the church in Wales were charged with keeping baptism, marriage, and burial records. Many early records have not survived, and records may not include your ancestors or all the details you would like to see. But existing entries can reveal the dates and places of your ancestors’ births, marriages, and deaths, along with names of parents, spouses and other relatives. In addition, between 1598 and about 1860, bishops created transcripts of parish records. Some of these bishops’ transcripts survive and may contain unique details that don’t appear in original parish records.
Other Protestant denominations, known generally as Nonconformist churches, became popular beginning in the 1700s. In fact, by 1851, about 75 percent of Welsh people attended a nonconformist church. Surviving records from these churches may be rich in genealogical content. Even so, between 1754 and 1837, all marriages (except for Quakers and Jews) were required by law to be performed by the Church in Wales, so look for vital records there.
Many Church in Wales and Nonconformist records are searchable for free on FamilySearch.org or by subscription at findmypast.com or Ancestry.com. You may need to look for others in published or microfilmed format or order copies of original records from archives. Learn more about locating Welsh ancestors’ church records.
Start Exploring Your Welsh Ancestry
These three record types are just the beginning! Monumental inscriptions, newspapers, wills, probate records, and other records may also reveal your Welsh ancestors’ stories and identities. You may also encounter some challenges in old records, such as the use of common names, the Welsh language, and old naming customs. Free advice and instruction on tracing Welsh ancestors is available in the FamilySearch wiki whenever you need it.
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