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Wales Historical Background

Effective family history research requires an understanding of the historical events that affected
your ancestors and record keeping. Learning about wars, local events, laws, migrations,
settlement patterns, and economic or religious trends may help you understand family
movements. These events may have led to the creation of records that mention your ancestors.
Your family history research will be more interesting if you learn about the events that shaped
your ancestors' lives.
Historical Overview
This list contains some key dates and events in Welsh history. Use the links to go directly to the
period you are most interested in.
• 1536 to 1600
• 1600 to 1700
• 1700 to 1800
• 1800 to present
1536-1543 Anglesey, Caernarvon, Cardigan, Flint, and part of Carmarthen
were consolidated and put under English law. 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.
1538 Thomas Cromwell ordered all parish ministers to record
christenings, marriages, and burials.
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.
1606 A law forced Roman Catholics to be baptized and married by
Church of England clergy and to be buried in the churchyard.
Many complied in regard to burials, but they continued to baptize
and marry in secret.
1639 The first nonconforming church in Wales was the
Independentcongregation in Llanvahes, Monmouthshire.
1642-60 Disputes over the form of government and religion led to Civil
War. Civil war caused political and relgious upheaval. Oliver
Cromwell became Lord Protector of Wales, bishops courts were
abolished, and many other changes affected records. Parish
registers were poorly kept or destroyed.
Wales, Historical Background
Research Guidance
Version of Data: 03/07/01
1645 Some Independent congregation members at Llanvaches 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
1733 English replaced Latin in official records, but local practice varied
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
1752 The new Gregorian calendar was adopted. The first day of the
year changed from March 25 (Lady's Day) to January 1. For
more information, see Calendar Changes.
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.
1755-1762 Seven Years War. Called the French and Indian Wars in North
America, this war involved 120,000 British soldiers; from this
time on, a continuous series of army records were kept.
1780-1900 The industrial revolution resulted in the growth of towns, the
depopulation of many rural areas, and emigration to England
and overseas.
1800-51 The population of Wales doubled, bringing about many social
changes, particularly increased emigration.
1805-1815 Napoleonic Wars. Numerous battles across Europe involved
365,000 British soldiers and 300,000 seamen.
1811 Methodists split from the Church of England.
1812 Rose's Act required that marriages, baptisms, and burials be
recorded in prescribed printed registers.
1832 The first railway was built in Wales
1837 Civil registration began on 1 July. 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 Latterday
Saints began preaching in Wales at Overton, Flintshire.
1841 The first genealogically useful census was taken.
1854-1856 Crimean War. 225,000 troops were involved in the Crimea
(Russian Black Sea).
1857-1860 Indian Mutiny. Many of the troops discharged after the Crimean
War were recalled to quell the revolt in India.
Wales, Historical Background
Research Guidance
Version of Data: 03/07/01
1858 Principal Probate Registry began handling all Welsh probates.
1877-1901 South African (Boer) Wars. The first Anglo-Boer War led to
South African independence in 1881. The second Anglo-Boer
War (1898-1901) led to the unification of South Africa in 1910.
1914-1918 First World War. About 35,000 Welsh servicemen died.
1922 Wales became a province of the Church of England. It has since
become known as the Church in Wales. There is now an
Archbishop of Wales and bishops presiding over six Welsh
1939-1945 Second World War. About 20,000 Welsh servicemen died.
1974 County structure changed.
1996 County structure changed again.
Historical Sources
A few of the many available historical sources are—
• Williams, Glanmor, Geraint H. Jenkins, and Kenneth O. Morgan. The History of Wales. 3 vols.
The volumes are organized by period, 1415 to 1980.
• Thomas, Hugh and E. D. Evans. A History of Wales. 2 vols. The volumes are organized by
period, 1465-1815.
• Davies, John. A History Of Wales.
• Rees, Thomas. History of Protestant Nonconformity in Wales from Its Rise in 1633 to the
Present Time.
• Williams, David. A History of Modern Wales. This history covers from 1485 to the twentieth
• Lloyd, John Edward, Sir. History of Wales: From the Earliest Time to the Edwardian
Conquest. 2 vols. This work covers Welsh history from prehistoric times to 1282.
Similar sources may be available at public and university libraries.
Local Histories
A local history describes the economy, prominent families, and the founding of churches,
hospitals, schools, and businesses in a specific area. Even if a local history does not mention
your ancestor, you may find important clues that suggest other records to search. Local histories
also provide background information about your family's lifestyle, community, and environment.
There are many histories of Welsh parishes, churches, and chapels. Those available at the
Family History Library will be listed in the Family History Library Catalog. Go to What to Do Next,
select the Catalog, and look for a specific locality and the topics of History or Church History.
Similar histories are often available at major public and university libraries and archives and may
be available for purchase at bookstores.
Calendar Changes
The Gregorian calendar, the one commonly used today, is a correction of the Julian calendar,
which, because of miscalculated leap years, was 11 days behind the solar year by 1752.
Wales 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.
Wales, Historical Background
Research Guidance
Version of Data: 03/07/01
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. For example, the day after 24 March 1565 was 25 March
1566. Dates between 1 January and 24 March are often recorded using a technique called
double dating. An example of double dating is 16 February 1696/7.
For more information, see the Handbook of Dates for Students of English History, by C. R.