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 (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:

  • Anglesey
  • Breconshire (sometimes Brecknockshire)
  • Caernarfonshire (sometimes Carnarvonshire or Caernarvonshire)
  • Cardiganshire
  • Carmarthenshire
  • Denbighshire
  • Flintshire
  • Glamorgan
  • Merionethshire
  • Monmouthshire
  • Montgomeryshire
  • Pembrokeshire
  • Radnorshire

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

  • Clwyd
  • Dyfed
  • Gwent
  • Gwynedd
  • Mid Glamorgan
  • South Glamorgan
  • West Glamorgan
  • Powys

However, these were short-lived, and following further local government reorganisation in 1996 were abandoned. The are now referred to as the preserved counties and were replaced by twenty-two new unitary authorities:

  • Anglesey
  • Blaenau Gwent
  • Bridgend
  • Caerphilly
  • Cardiff
  • Carmarthenshire
  • Ceredigion
  • Conwy
  • Denbighshire
  • Flintshire
  • Gwynedd
  • Merthyr Tydfil
  • Monmouthshire
  • Neath Port Talbot
  • Newport
  • Pembrokeshire
  • Powys
  • Rhondda Cynon Taff
  • Swansea
  • Torfaen
  • Vale of Glamorgan
  • Wrexham

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


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 listed in the Family History Library 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.

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

Other sources are found in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:




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