Wales Church History
Effective research in church records requires some understanding of your ancestor’s religion and the events that led to the creation of church records.
In 1531 King Henry VIII declared himself to be supreme head of the Church of England, which became the state religion. Individual church units, called parishes, controlled poor relief, military conscription, and some law enforcement and taxation.
In 1922 an Act of Parliament disestablished the Church of England in Wales. The Church in Wales, as it became known, became independent from the Church of England. The Church in Wales is also known as the Anglican or Episcopal Church.
The following major events affected Welsh church and chapel history and records:
1531: Henry VIII recognized as head of the newly created Church of England. All ties with the Pope and the church in Rome severed.
1538: Thomas Cromwell ordered all parish ministers to record christenings, marriages, and burials.
1563: The Test Act excluded Roman Catholics from governmental offices and fined them for not attending Church of England services.
1588: Bishop William Morgan translated the Bible into Welsh.
1598: Parishes began sending annual copies of parish registers to the bishop of the diocese. These are called bishop’s transcripts.
1598: Parish registers were required to be kept on parchment and previous registers copied onto parchment.
1606: A law forced Roman Catholics to be baptised and married by Church of England clergy and to be buried in the churchyard. Many complied in regard to burials, but they continued to baptise and marry in secret.
1639: The first nonconforming church in Wales was the Independent congregation in Llanfaches, Monmouthshire.
1642–1660 Civil war caused political and religious upheaval. Parish registers were poorly kept or destroyed.
1645: Some Independent congregation members at Llanfaches left and formed the first Baptist church in Wales at Llantrisant and Llangwm, Monmouthshire.
1662–1688: This was a period of intense persecution for nonconformists. Many were jailed or lost their property, especially members of the Society of Friends (Quakers). From the 1680s, many Welshmen emigrated to Pennsylvania. The Acts of Toleration were passed in 1688, allowing nonconformist sects to worship freely.
1695–1706: A tax was assessed on parish register entries. To avoid the tax, some people did not register events.
1733 English replaced Latin in many registers. The exact date English was adopted by each parish varies considerably.
1737: Howell Harris and Daniel Rowlands introduced Calvinistic Methodism in Wales. In 1811 the Calvinistic Methodists separated from the Church of England and became a separate sect.
1752: The first day of the year changed from 25 March (Lady’s Day) to 1 January.
1754: Lord Hardwicke’s Act required a separate register for marriages and outlawed marriages outside of the Church of England. Common law and nonconformist (except for Quaker and Jewish) marriages were outlawed.
1812: The George Rose Act required Church of England christening, marriage, and burial records to be kept in separate registers, starting 1 January 1813. Printed forms were used.
1837: Civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths began. Events were still recorded in church records. Bishop’s transcripts became less common, and they completely ceased by 1900.
1840: The first missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began preaching in Wales at Overton, Flintshire.
1851: A religious census was taken which indicated that 75 per cent of the people were nonconformists.
1910: The government commissioned a study which determined that more than 25 percent of the people present at religious services regularly attended the Church in Wales.
1922: The Church in Wales became independent from the Church of England by an act of Parliament.
Histories written about individual parishes can provide information on the church and possibly your ancestor. The Family History Library has a good collection of histories about various religious groups. Look in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
WALES - CHURCH HISTORY
WALES, [COUNTY] - CHURCH HISTORY
WALES, [COUNTY], [PARISH] - CHURCH HISTORY
WALES - HISTORY
WALES, [COUNTY] - HISTORY
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Research Outline: Wales (Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President, 2000), 17-18.