Wales History

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You will need to understand the historical events that affected your ancestors and the records about them. Knowledge concerning wars, local events, laws, migrations, settlement patterns, and economic or religious trends will help you find records, such as settlement certificates or military records, where your ancestors are mentioned.

Some key dates and events in Welsh history are:

1282-1536 Anglesey, Caernarfon, Cardigan, Flint, and Part of Carmarthen were consolidated and put under English rule. This military conquest was resisted and not completed for centuries. The area became known as the Principality of Wales. The other parts of Wales were slowly absorbed into the United Kingdom and had a varied history of administration.
1536 Wales and England are united politically. The Welsh language could no longer be used for official documents. Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and broke with the Roman Catholic church creating the Church of England and the Church of Wales.
1642-1660 Civil War. Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector of Wales, bishop’s courts were abolished, many other changes affected records.
1733 English replaced Latin in official records, but local practice varied greatly.
1752 The new Gregorian calendar was adopted. The first day of the year changed from March 25 (Lady’s Day) to January 1.
1780-1900 The industrial revolution resulted in the growth of towns, the depopulation of many rural areas, and emigration to England and overseas.
1800-1851 The population of Wales doubled, bringing about many social changes, particularly increased emigration.
1832 The first railway was built in Wales.
1834 Poor Law Unions are created to administer relief to the poor.
1837 Civil registration began on 1 July.
1841 The first census to list every individual by name was taken.
1858 Principal Probate Registry began handling all Welsh probates.
1974 County boundaries changed dramatically.
1996 County boundaries changed again

For dates and records of wars, and key dates relating to church records, see the "Military Records" and "Church History" sections of this outline. For dates of the reigns of British rulers, see:

  • Cheney, C.R., ed. Handbook of Dates for Students of English History.London, England: Offices of the Royal Historical Society, 1978. (FHL 942 C4rg no. 4.)

Two of the many available historical sources are:

  • Tomas, Hugh, E.D. Evans, and A.H. Dodd. eds.A History of Wales. 3 vol. Cardiff, Wales: University of Wales Press. (FHL book 942.9 H2wh.) The volumes are organized by time period, 1465–1906.
  • Williams, David. A History of Modern Wales. London, England: John Murray, 1977. (FHL book 942.9 H2w.) This history covers from 1485 to the twentieth century.

You can find other histories in the Family History Library Catalog under:



Many bibliographies of histories are available. A helpful one is:

  • Annual Bibliography of British and Irish History. Annual vols. Brighton, England: Harvester Press, 1976–. (FHL book 942 A3e.)

Others are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:



Local Histories

A local history describes the economy; prominent families; and the founding of churches, hospitals, schools, and businesses in an area. Even if a local history does not mention your ancestor, you may find important clues that suggest other records to search.

For some localities there may be several histories. There are many histories of Welsh parishes. Local and parish histories are available at the Family History Library and often at major public and academic libraries and archives. Those at the Family History Library are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:



Calendar Changes

The Gregorian calendar, the one commonly used today, is a correction of the Julian calendar. Because of miscalculated leap years, the Julian calendar was 11 days behind the solar year by 1752.

Great Britain began using the new calendar in 1752. Eleven days were omitted to bring the calendar in line with the solar year. The day after Wednesday, 2 September 1752, became Thursday, 14 September 1752.

Also at that time, the first day of the year changed to 1 January. Before 1752, the first day of the year was 25 March.

Pre-1752 dates may be confusing. Dates between 1 January and 24 March are often recorded using a technique called double dating. For example, the day after 31 December 1696 would be 1 January 1696/7 and the day after 24 March 1565/6 was 25 March 1566.

Web Sites

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