Wales Historical Geography

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Learning about the places where your ancestors lived helps you find and understand the records about them. Local histories and gazetteers have information about changes in the land and community in which people lived.

Counties evolved more slowly in Wales than in England. The traditional counties of Wales were created at various times between 1282 and 1535/6 (when the Act of Union between England and Wales took place). During this period, all along the border, districts which had long been associated with Wales were added to the English counties of Shropshire and Herefordshire. The original thirteen ancient counties were:

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  1. Anglesey
  2. Breconshire (occasionally Brecknockshire)
  3. Caernarfonshire (formerly Carnarvonshire or Caernarvonshire
  4. Cardiganshire
  5. Carmarthenshire
  6. Denbighshire
  7. Flintshire
  8. Glamorgan (occasionally Glamorganshire)
  9. Merionethshire
  10. Monmouthshire
  11. Montgomeryshire
  12. Pembrokeshire
  13. Radnorshire

The county boundaries in Wales changed following reorganisation in 1974 and these counties were replaced by eight new counties:

Cymru 1976 siroedd.png
  1. Clwyd
  2. Dyfed
  3. Gwent
  4. Gwynedd
  5. Mid Glamorgan
  6. South Glamorgan
  7. West Glamorgan
  8. Powys

These counties were in turn divided into local administrative districts:

County Administrative Districts
Clwyd Alyn and Deeside; Colwyn; Delyn; Glyndŵr; Rhuddlan; Wrexham Maelor
Dyfed Carmarthen; Ceredigion; Dinefwr; Llanelli; Preseli Pembrokeshire; South Pembrokeshire
Gwent Blaenau Gwent; Islwyn; Monmouth; Newport; Torfaen
Gwynedd Aberconwy; Arfon; Dwyfor; Meirionnydd; Ynys Môn
Mid Glamorgan Cynon Valley; Merthyr Tydfil; Ogwr; Rhondda; Rhymney Valley; Taff-Ely
Powys Brecon; Montgomeryshire; Radnorshire
South Glamorgan Cardiff; Vale of Glamorgan
West Glamorgan Lliw Valley; Neath; Port Talbot; Swansea

However, these were never popular and were short-lived. Following further local government reorganization in 1996 they were abandoned. They are now referred to as the preserved counties and were replaced by twenty-two new unitary authorities:

Cymru 1996 siroedd.png
  1. Anglesey
  2. Blaenau Gwent
  3. Bridgend
  4. Caerphilly
  5. Cardiff
  6. Carmarthenshire
  7. Ceredigion
  8. Conwy
  9. Denbighshire
  10. Flintshire
  11. Gwynedd
  12. Merthyr Tydfil
  13. Monmouthshire
  14. Neath Port Talbot
  15. Newport
  16. Pembrokeshire
  17. Powys
  18. Rhondda Cynon Taf
  19. Swansea
  20. Torfaen
  21. Vale of Glamorgan
  22. Wrexham

These new county names are used on recent maps and in current addresses. The pre-1974 traditional county names are used in the FamilySearch Catalog and for most research purposes.

Monmouthshire[edit | edit source]

Monmouthshire, was sometimes considered part of England and other times part of Wales. However, the "county or shire of Monmouth" was formed from parts of the Welsh Marches by the Laws in Wales Act 1535. According to the Act, the shire consisted of "all Honours, Lordships, Castles, Manors, Lands, Tenements and Hereditaments, lying or being within the Compass or Precinct of the following Lordships, Townships, Parishes, Commotes and Cantrefs... in the Country of Wales ". The issue was finally clarified in law by the Local Government Act 1972, which placed Monmouthshire firmly in Wales. Following local government reorganisation in Wales in 1974, the county of Monmouthshire became part of the newly created county of Gwent In 1996 further local government reorganisation took place and the 'new', smaller, county of Monmouthshire was created, which comprised the rural parts of the 'old' county of Monmouthshire . Monmouthshire is confusingly listed in the FamilySearch Catalog under the country of England!!!

The following books explain more about Welsh historical geography. You can find these and similar materials at the Family History Library and many other research libraries.[1]

  • Rees, William. An Historical Atlas of Wales. 2nd ed. London, England: Faber and Faber, 1972. (Family History Library book 942.9 E3r.)
  • Davis, Margaret.Wales in Maps. 2nd ed. Cardiff, Wales: University of Wales Press, 1958. (Family History Library book 942.9 E3d.)

Other sources are found in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:


External Links[edit | edit source]

Sources[edit | edit source]

  1. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Research Outline: Wales (Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President, 2000), 39.