Zealand Family History Society
to researching Welsh Ancestry
|by - Val C Gregory, Past
The Welsh Interest Group of the NZSG.
|Editor of: The
Welsh Connection / Y Cysylltiad Cymreig
|Having found that you have a
wonderful Welsh ancestor - take a moment to learn about his or her
|Our country of Wales
|Even though the population of
Wales in 1933 was approximately 2,600,000 including Monmouthshire, some
knowledge of the general location will be helpful.
|The table below shows the
approximate population in 1933 by county.
|Did you notice the mention
'including Monmouthshire' - we unreservedly claim Monmouthshire as
belonging to Wales. A Court of Great Sessions was established in
each of the Welsh counties, except for Monmouthshire.
Monmouthshire was attached to an English Assize circuit (Oxford) since
its inclusion in one of the Welsh circuits would have made one of them
unbalanced in size with four instead of three counties. It was
also the county nearest to the central courts in London. The Great
Sessions were abolished in 1830. However, when records are used
which are available through the Family History Centre's of the LDS
church, be aware that Monmouthshire is often indexed under England.
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A Surname or two
The lack of
variety in the surnames
to be found in Wales should not be a deterrent to seeking further
information. In 1856 the Registrar General, George Graham, made
particular reference to the situation which prevailed in Wales.
"The contribution of Wales to the number of surnames is very small in
proportion to its population. Perhaps nine tenths of our
countrymen in the principality could be mustered under less than 100
different surnames. The frequency of such names as JONES,
WILLIAMS, DAVIES, EVANS and others, almost defeats the primary object
of a name, which is to distinguish an individual from the mass.
The name John JONES, is a perpetual incognito in Wales, and being
proclaimed at the cross of a market town would indicate no one in
The Welsh have an answer to the frequency
in which the same surname
appears in the village.
John JONES, the shop. John
Deacon. John JONES, peg-leg.
Hugh ROBERTS, religious. Hugh ROBERTS, ungodly. Hugh
Very useful maps
distribution and incidence of particular surnames, are published in The
Surname of Wales, by John & Sheila ROWLANDS.
We take one example
from this book -
EVANS - ranks at 8th on the list of the most frequent English &
Welsh surnames with .51% in the mid nineteenth century. A
comparison of the 10 most common names in Wales and England, EVANS
comes in at 5th place with a percentage of 5.46.
EVANS is one of the
patronymic surnames. BEVAN is from ab EVAN. The main
concentration is centred on south Cardiganshire (Llar Lower 17.8%:
Moyddin 15.1%) Migration in the period 1813-37 from west Wales to
Glamorgan, shows a minor concentration of the name.
By investigating the
incidence of the surname you are interested in can be helpful in
establishing where you could begin to research the family.
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Patronymics - just
to add a little diversion
Patronymic Names in Wales - surnames
based on the father's given
name. Generally, ap or
ab was added between the
child's name and the father's name. For example, David ab Owen is
David son of Owen. There were many exceptions to this:
- The family could drop the ab
or ap. In this case,
his name would have been simply David OWEN.
- The family could drop the a
and attach the remaining p
or b to the
father's name. For example, David ab Owen could have been David BOWEN.
- For a woman's name, the word ferch
or verch, meaning
daughter of, was used.
Keep this in mind when viewing
records, in particular the IGI. If you have access to the IGI on
microfiche, use the Given name set of microfiche as well as the more
frequently used Surname set.
There does not appear to have been a particular period when the formal
use of surnames took over from the patronymics.
An example from the 1841 census for Llanarthney, Carmarthenshire.
John MORRIS, is found with family. This is the name he is known
as at the time of his marriage in 1838, and on the marriage certificate
his father's name is given as Pendry MORRIS.
The 1851 census
for Llanarthney, Carmarthenshire - the same John, is
now recorded as John PENDRY. Confirmation of these being the same
person is the listing of the same members of the family, including the
mother-in-law Elizabeth JONES on both census returns.
To have success with your Welsh research, you must at all times keep an
open mind and 'think beyond the square'.
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Marriage & Death records
What is the information which indicates
the person of your research
came from Wales?
Perhaps, a place
of birth given on a
death certificate as Wales, and hopefully also a parish or
county. Presume for a moment that the event happened and was
recorded outside of Wales - spare a thought for the clerk taking the
details down. If a Welsh place name is said to you, by a Welsh
speaking person in maybe a somewhat distressed state, or a non Welsh
speaking person who has only 'heard' the name said - how would you
write it down!!
We were given a copy of a New Zealand certificate on which the Welsh
place name had been recorded. The indication was that the person
had come from North Wales - great this at least gave a slightly smaller
area to search, than if the indication was only given as Wales.
Using the many resources we have at hand, we were unable to match the
place name on the certificate to a gazetted name. The Welsh
Interest Group has a large extended family in the form of the Welsh
Family History Societies in Wales and U.S.A. To the
appropriate family history society we sent our request for assistance
to identify the place name. No happy ending to this example, as
they also struggled to make sense of what had been recorded.
registration of births,
marriages and deaths for England and Wales began on 1st July 1837 and
continues to the present. The indexes to these are readily available,
through the NZSG, FHL, Public Libraries, Free BMD web pages. Now
referred to as the GRO (General Register Office), previously known as
and still sometimes referred to as St Catherine's House indexes.
It is important to note that the indexes are in quarters for each year.
that is: March quarter covers registrations from January, February and
March. Whereas April, May and June are in the June quarter and so
on for September and December quarters. Our enthusiasm for the hunt
especially in the early days of research sometimes gets away and when
using the copy on microfilm especially, and not finding the expected
entry on the first part of the film, we do not continue on looking at
the other quarters. In offering this 'tip' it is a case of having
'been there - done that".
Be also aware that, whereas you may know the actual month the event
took place, e.g. April - the registration of a birth especially many
not be done until some months later and therefore not appear in the
quarter you expect it to. There were many circumstances which
could prevent the prompt registration of an event. Just one to
think about - birth in December - severe snow storm blocks all access
to the nearest register office for 7 weeks - but no time then to go, as
commitments on the farm prevent the head of the house from venturing
away for the several days it will take to go to the town, and the
mother has a number of young children etc. etc. to care for. We
will wait until spring when the trip to the market is usually
made. But all is not lost, new baby should be baptised - this is
far more important than the registration the government requires.
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Locating the parish
of Wales - by CJ
Williams, J Watts-Williams, covers all thirteen ancient counties in the
principality, describing the registers of over 1,000 parishes and
chapelries in existence by 1812, and of about 400 post 1812 churches
for which records are held by a repository.
When looking for the availability of records for the parish of
interest, this publication is first place we begin. An example of
the records available for Llanarthney, Carmarthenshire (the parish used
in the patronymic's section). At the Carmarthen Record Office are
Christenings 1720-1891, Marriages 1720-1909, Banns 1754-96, 1829-1847,
Burials 1720-1953. The
National Library of Wales (located in Aberystwyth, Cardiganshire) has
facsimile copies for specified periods, and also Bishops
Transcripts. Next, a search is made using the Family History
Locality Catalogue (cd-rom) issued by the LDS, also available at FHL
and on the Family Search web pages. This will indicate the
records which have been filmed by the LDS and therefore available to be
viewed at one of the FHL. Sometimes the only record available is
in book form, held at the Library in Salt Lake City, Utah - and what
better reason could there be for planning genealogical trip.
The parish records above are mainly for the Established Church in
Wales, which was until its disestablishment in 1920 an integral part of
the Church of England.
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The earliest Welsh nonconformist
register, the church book of the Baptists of Ilston In Gower, dates
from the year 1649, much later than the register of The Established
Church in the parish Gwaunysgor, Flintshire, dated 1538. A
fundamental difference between the two types of register is that parish
registers refer to people who lived within defined geographical
parishes, while some nonconformist registers contain the names of
people from a very wide area. In the case of nonconformists,
therefore, one often has to take account of the history of an
individual 'cause' when searching for one's forebears, rather than
simply focusing on a geographical area. Many early christenings
took place in the parents' home, before many of the chapels were built,
and this fact is often noted in the register.
When you locate the list of items available for the Nonconformist
Chapel of interest, look also for the films of the membership lists and
meetings. One entry we have viewed gave details of a family who
were emigrating to the U.S.A.
Nonconformity took hold in Wales and
increased rapidly, due to the
major influence of the English, insisting that all 'Priests' in the
Established Church of Wales, would be English and that the services
would be conducted in English. Attendance at church was a very
important part of the Welsh villager. After 6 days of being down
the mine - the seventh day of the week was set aside for religious
worship, social gathering and singing which comes so naturally to a
Welshman. To be required to attend a church were the lessons and
sermons were given in a language you did not understand, set the scene
for the move to attend the gatherings of the alternatives.
eased at the
beginning of the eighteenth century, nonconformity increased steadily,
by 1851 about 75% of the Welsh population belonged to a nonconformist
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The census dates
and format are the
same as for England. However special arrangements had to be made
for those parts of Wales and Monmouthshire in which English was not
understood. A Welsh translation of the household schedule was
available from 1841 onwards. The enumerators' books were always
to be filled out in English. From 1871 onwards the enumerators
were asked to distinguish case where a Welsh schedule had been used by
writing 'W' in the first column of the book, immediately under the
number of the schedule. The census returns of 1891 and 1901 contained
an extra column for 'language spoken'. People were to write 'English'
if they only spoke English; 'Welsh' if they only spoke Welsh; and
'Both' if they spoke both English and Welsh. As with the
'problem' of the place names on certificates, this too can be a
challenge when endeavouring to interpret a Welsh place of birth.
Not only if the ancestor is on a census return out of Wales, but even
when the entry is actually recorded on a census return in Wales.
There are resources available to assist in identifying the place and
ideally a copy taken direct from the film / fiche of the census return
is a good place to start.
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There are a number
published, earlier ones can be found as microfiche or microfilm and
sometimes a facsimile copy. Usually they show the name of a
person with his or her address and occupation. They seldom show
the entire population, usually including only prominent members of the
community, such as gentry, clergy, merchants and craftsmen. The
publication - Ward Lock & Co's Illustrated Guide Books - North
Wales (northern and southern) and South Wales 1905, includes excellent
maps of the area and descriptive narratives of the villages. The
entry for: "Pontypridd, (ponty-preeth), 6 miles by rail beyond Castell
Coch, is famed for its "Bridge of Beauty"...it is a perfect segment of
a circle which stretches its magnificent chord of 140 feet across the
bed of the Taff, rising like a rainbow from the steep bank on the
eastern side of the river and gracefully resting on the western.
The bridge was designed and build in 1756 by a native self-taught
stone-mason named Edwards".
Another excellent source for more than
the usual information on a
parish is "Samuel Lewis's topographical dictionary of Wales -
1842" For the county of Monmouthshire, see - "Samuel Lewis's
topographical dictionary of England"
For the parish of
Maescar, we learn
that it is a township in the parish and hundred of Devynock in the
county of Brecknock, North Wales. The inhabitants of a portion of
the hamlet resort to the parish church, while those of the upper part
of Cym Camlais frequent the chapel of Llanilltyd. In two of the
three schools, 50 pupils are educated at their parents' expense, whilst
instruction is gratuitously afforded to 110 males and females of the
Established Church and to about 95 belonging to the dissenters.
Again somewhere else to establish the presence of a nonconformist.
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The translation of
the place provides
us with clues as to the whereabouts of the place, or a greater
understanding of other influences. Probably the most widely used
beginning to a Welsh place name is LLAN : originally an enclosure, now
'church'. Usually followed by the name of a saint. The
popular Llanfihangel translates as St Michael's church.
Llanfihangel-Y-Pennant: St Michael's church : head of valley.
Ffridd Goch: red mountain pasture.
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Further research and
There are numerous publications on
Researching your Family
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- Tracing Family History Overseas from New Zealand - by Anne
Brommell ( a good place to start)
- Welsh Family History - a guide to research by John Rowlands and
- Second Stages in Researching Welsh Ancestry by John and Sheila
- A Clearer Sense of the Census by Edward Higgs
- A Gazetteer of Welsh Place names
- Parish Registers of Wales by C J Williams, J Watts-Williams
- Nonconformist Registers of Wales
- The Surnames of Wales by John and Sheila Rowlands
- The Welsh In the United States by Elwyn T Ashton
- Research Outline Wales - Family History Library LDS
- Who's Who in Wales, 1933 2nd Edition
Recording the results
Managing a Genealogical Project by
William Dollarhide (A Complete manual for the Management and
Organization of Genealogical Materials) It is perhaps 'helpful'
to have something to follow as we endeavour to cope with the flood of
information which comes at the beginning of the family search.
This publication was purchased some ten years after my research had
begun. By this time, the mountain of paper was almost
overwhelming. How you choose to record the information, whether
it is on paper or in a computer program, is not the most important part
of family research - as long as it is easily accessible and understood
by you, that is what matters most. A real must do is always
recording the source of the information. As you become more
familiar with records and the interest names increase you will find you
will need to relook at films that you view right at the beginning of
your research. Your knowledge increases, so having a Welsh
ancestor turn up will present just the new challenge you have been
In presenting these guidelines, I hope I have given you an insight into
the special place which is Wales. Whereas the dates of birth,
marriage and death are necessary and important to our family records,
learning about the history, social conditions and whys and
wherefores of the country is of equal importance.
Enjoy your research and know that if
you would like a helping hand or a
should to cry on - The Welsh Interest Group will be here to commiserate
or congratulate you.
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Last Updated 07 March 2009
Web Page by Val C Gregory
& Megan Wickham