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Church records are an excellent source for accurate information on names, dates, and places of birth, marriage, and burial. Most people who lived in Wales before the mid-nineteenth century are in a church record. Since civil authorities did not begin registering vital records until July 1837, church records are the best source of family information before this date.
Some church records were destroyed by fire, lost, stolen, defaced, or damaged by dampness or aging. To protect their records, most parishes have deposited their early registers in county record offices.
The Church in Wales (Church of England) Records
The parish is the most basic unit of church administration, although the parish was often divided into townships or tithings. Large parishes had small chapels of ease, or chapelries, for those who lived too far away to attend the parish church. Gazetteers can help you locate parishes and townships. See the "Gazetteers" section of this outline for more information.
Maps that show parish boundaries can help you determine which parish records to search and identify neighboring parishes. Remember that some parish boundaries have been altered. See the "Maps" section of this outline for more information.
A group of parishes form a diocese, which is headed by a bishop. Some dioceses have one or more archdeaconries (administered by an archdeacon), which may be divided into rural deaneries (headed by a rural dean). Each deanery consists of several parishes.
The amount of information in registers varies from parish to parish. Later records generally give more complete information than earlier ones. Some early parish registers are in Latin. A few very early registers are in Welsh or have occasional entries in Welsh. Local dialects may have affected the spelling of names or places.
In the 1930s, the National Library of Wales sent a questionnaire to all parishes in Wales, asking for details of surviving records, including churchwarden’s accounts and vestry minutes. The results were published in:
Parish Registers and Civil Records of the Parishes of the Welsh Diocese Included in the Returns Relating to Ecclesiastical Records in the Parishes of the Diocese of: Swansea and Brecon; St. David’s; St. Asaph; Bangor; Llandaff; Monmouth.
The Family History Library has copies of this information on the following films:
- Swansea and Brecon, FHL film 104175
- St. David’s, FHL film 104176
- St. Asaph, FHL film 104177
- Bangor, FHL film 104177
- Llandaff, FHL film 104178
- Monmouth, FHL film 104178
This information is organized by diocese and then alphabetically by parish. To find the name of the diocese for a specific parish, consult one of the gazetteers listed in the "Gazetteers" section of this outline or the The Phillimore Atlas and Index of Parish Registers in the "Maps" section of this outline.
Children were usually christened (baptized) within a few weeks of birth. Christening records give at least the infant’s name and the christening (baptismal) date. You may also find the father’s name and occupation, the mother’s first name, the child’s birth date and legitimacy, and the family’s place of residence or street address. Sometimes a later entry will record the child’s acceptance into the congregation.
Couples usually married in the bride’s parish. Typically, the Welsh married in their mid-20s.
Early parish registers often record only the marriage date and the names of the bride and groom. The records may also include the marital status and parish of residence of both parties, groom’s occupation, name of the bride’s or groom’s father, minister’s name, and signatures of the witnesses.
There were two ways to meet the requirements to marry:
By Banns. You may find records that show a couple’s "intent to marry," called banns, in addition to the records of the actual marriage. Unless they obtained a license, couples were required to have the minister announce their intent to marry or post notice on the church door for three consecutive Sundays. This gave others the opportunity to object to the marriage. Beginning in 1754, officials recorded banns in separate registers. Banns registers are almost identical to marriage registers, except for the witnesses and marriage date.
The banns should have been recorded in both the bride’s and the groom’s parishes. The marriage is recorded only in the parish where it took place. Sometimes, the couple registered their intent to marry but never married. The Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog lists banns or marriage registers under:
WALES, [COUNTY], [PARISH] - CHURCH RECORDS
By License. A couple applied to the proper church authority, usually the bishop, for a license when:
- Circumstances made it desirable to marry without waiting the three weeks required for the proclamation of banns.
- The bride and groom lived in different dioceses.
- A couple preferred not to subject themselves to publication of banns (common among upper classes and nonconformists).
The licensing process created three types of documents, which may provide additional information to that found in the marriage record.
A marriage bond is a written guarantee made by the groom and another person swearing to the legality of the planned marriage.
A marriage allegation is the statement filed by the couple in support of their license application, recording the couple’s names, ages, and parish of residence. The allegation sometimes states where the marriage should take place or gives a parent’s name or signature.
A marriage license is the actual document given to the couple to present to the minister. This document seldom survives but is sometimes found in family papers.
Marriage licenses could be granted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, bishops, archdeacons, or their surrogates within their respective jurisdictions. If a couple married by license but the bond or allegation can not be found in the records for that diocese, check the records of the Vicar General and the Faculty Office which had a higher level of jurisdiction.
The National Library of Wales has original marriage bonds and allegations for marriages in Wales and a surname index to them for the years 1616 through 1837.
The Marriage Bond Index covers about 90,000 marriages by license in Wales. Write to the National Library to have the index searched. When writing, send as much information as possible, such as the names of the couple, their home parishes, the date of marriage, and the name of the church where they married.
The Family History Library has microfilm copies of the bonds and allegations listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
WALES - CHURCH RECORDS
WALES, [COUNTY] - CHURCH RECORDS
You can also find the film numbers in:
- Marriage Bonds and Allegations, Register of Contents. Typescript; Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1968. (FHL book 942.9 V25ab; film 599275 item 6.)
Before-1813 burial records give the deceased name and burial date and sometimes the age, place of residence, cause of death, or occupation. The husband’s or father’s name is sometimes given. Post-1813 records have the name, age, residence, burial date, and minister’s signature.
Burial registers may mention infant children who were not christened, including stillbirths. Christening records never record stillbirths.
A married woman in Wales whose husband had died might have reverted to her maiden name and eventually be buried under that name.
Copies of Parish Registers
Copies of parish registers may be available in manuscript or published form. These copies include transcripts and abstracts, some of which may have errors or omissions. Compare the transcript to the original parish register, if available.
Individuals and societies collect and compile copies of parish registers. Both the Society of Genealogists in London and the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah have major collections of such records.
Bishop’s Transcripts. Each year, beginning in 1598, a copy of the parish register was made and sent to the bishop of the diocese. These copies are called bishop’s transcripts. Bishop’s transcripts were meant to be exact, but entries were sometimes abbreviated and may contain additional or variant information from that found in the parish registers. If the original register has been lost, the transcript may be invaluable as the only source of information. In Wales these transcripts survive from about 1662. Most begin in the eighteenth century and have many years missing. Search both bishop’s transcripts and parish registers, when available, because of the differences that may exist between them.
Parish Chest Records
Church records were kept in a chest (or strongbox), known as the parish chest. Records kept by the parish other than the parish registers were called parish chest records. Some of these records exist from the sixteenth century, but many do not begin until the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century.
Many parish chest records are available at county record offices. These records include:
Vestry Minutes. A vestry is a parish’s presiding council. Minutes of vestry meetings often mention individuals, appointments of parish officers, and other affairs, such as agreements for the care of illegitimate children and lists of apprentices, parish newcomers, officials, and men eligible to serve as parish officers.
Poor and Other Rates. Parishes recorded payments made to the poor and rates, or taxes, assessed to meet welfare needs. Parishes charged rates for such costs as night watch, lighting, highway, pest control, constable expenses, sewer, and victim’s or soldier’s relief. They kept records of assessment, receipt, and disbursement. Such records are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
WALES, [COUNTY], [PARISH] - CHURCH RECORDS
WALES, [COUNTY], [PARISH] - POORHOUSES, POOR LAW
WALES, [COUNTY], [PARISH] - TAXATION
Bastardy Bonds. When an unmarried woman was expecting a child, parish officials pressured her to reveal the father’s name, so the father, not the parish, had financial responsibility for the child. A bond of indemnification, also known as a bastardy bond, guaranteed that the father was responsible for the child. Bastardy bonds or records of the mother’s examination before the parish authorities may exist in the parish chest records or among quarter session records (see the "Court Records" section of this outline).
Churchwardens (church officials) sometimes bypassed the bond with a gentlemen agreement, records of which are among churchwardens’ accounts or vestry minutes.
Churchwardens, generally appointed at the Easter vestry meetings, were responsible to the bishop or the magistrate to present any wrongdoings at quarter sessions, including failure to provide for the poor, failure to attend church, drunkenness, or other undesirable behavior. They were to report misbehavior of the vicar or other vestry members as well. Churchwarden’s records often list men qualified to serve as churchwardens.
Settlement and Removal Records. Before 1834 every individual had a place of legal settlement or residence. The parish of settlement was responsible for the welfare of family members, including elderly family members. A removal order was a document that directed a constable to transport the family back to their parish of settlement. Some settlement and removal records can be found among the quarter session records (see the"CourtRecords" section of this outline for more information.)
Apprenticeship Records. A child’s father often arranged his apprenticeship, but sometimes the parish arranged a child’s apprenticeship since it was cheaper for the parish to pay for an apprenticeship than to support a poor child. Apprenticeship records often list the apprentice’s father, his master, the length of apprenticeship, and the occupation. The child’s name may also be in vestry minutes where the vestry decided to put the child out as an apprentice. You may also find apprenticeship information in other sources; see the "Occupations" section of this outline.
Parish chest materials at the Family History Library are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
WALES, [COUNTY], [PARISH] - CHURCH RECORDS
For further information on parish chest material, see:
- McLaughlin, Eve. Annals of the Poor. 3rd ed. Solihull, England: Federation of Family History Societies (Publications) Ltd., 1986. (FHL Book 942 H6mev.)
- Tate, W. E. The Parish Chest. 3rd ed. Chichester, Sussex, England: Phillimore, 1969. (FHL book 942 K2t.)
Nonconformist Church Records
An act passed in 1662 required everyone to conform to the Church of England. Those who did not were called nonconformists. Quakers, Baptists, and Independents (Presbyterians) were the first Welsh nonconformist groups.
When persecution eased at the beginning of the eighteenth century, nonconformity increased steadily. By 1851, about 75 percent of the Welsh population belonged to a nonconformist sect.
Nonconformist registers vary greatly. Sometimes they contain more information than Anglican parish registers, often including the person’s birth date, baptism date, father’s name and residence, and mother’s name (including maiden name). A few give the birthplace of the father and mother.
Some nonconformist records contain less information than parish registers. For example, they seldom contain marriage records. Between 1754 and 1837, nonconformists could not legally marry outside the Church of England, except for Quakers and Jews. The registers contain some burial entries, though nonconformists were often buried in the Anglican churchyard when their chapel did not have a burial ground.
Some nonconformist groups never kept registers, and all evidence of their baptisms, marriages, and burials may be lost. Other nonconformist records include membership lists, minute books, pew rent books, membership transfer lists, Sunday School records, monumental (tombstone) inscriptions, and chapel histories. You may be able to use these records to fill the void caused by missing registers.
In 1836, all nonconformist groups were asked to turn in their registers to the Registrar General. Not all complied, but the records of those that did are now at The National Archives. Some groups stopped keeping registers when civil registration began. The Family History Library has copies of those that were deposited. To find film numbers, look in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
WALES, [COUNTY], [PARISH] - CHURCH RECORDS
You can also find film numbers in:
- General Register Office List of Non-Parochial Registers Main Series (FHL book 942 B4pro vol.42; film number 924800). Many names in these records are in the International Genealogical Index (IGI).
Most Welsh nonconformist sects have historical societies and publish regular journals that can be extremely useful. Those in the Family History Library collection are found in the Place Search under:
WALES - CHURCH HISTORY
WALES, [COUNTY], [PARISH] - CHURCH HISTORY
From early times, denominational magazines were published. These contain invaluable references to members, including often lengthy notices of baptisms, marriages, and obituaries. See the "Periodicals" section of this outline for more information on how to locate journals in the Family History Library Catalog.
Baptists, Independents (Congregationalists), Presbyterians
Many nonconformist religions evolved from sixteenth-century Puritanism. The Independent Church is also known as the Congregational Church. The records of these religions are similar to those of the Church of England. Baptists did not christen children; they baptized people who had reached a mature decision to be members. The person could have been as young as 14. The records may only contain the members’ names and baptism dates. They do not usually give the parents’ names. Some congregations kept a register of the births of members’ children, but this was rare.
For information and history about Baptists, contact:
- Baptist Historical Society
15 Fenshurst Gardens
Long Ashton, Bristol BS18 9AU
Internet: History http://www.baptisthistory.org.uk/basicpage.php?contents=familyHistory&page_title=Family%20History
For a history of the Welsh Baptists, see:
- Jones, David. Hanes Bedyddwyr yn Neheubarth Cymru (A History of the Baptists in South Wales). Caerfyrddin, Wales: Argraffwyd, 1839. (FHL film 994005.)
- Breed, Geoffrey R. My Ancestors Were Baptists: How Can I Find Out More About Them? London, England: Society of Genealogists, 1988. (FHL book 942 K23bg 1988.)
The Independents baptized infants. The registers contain information similar to that recorded in Church of England christening registers. The Welsh Independents [Annibynwyr Cymraeg] are a very strong nonconformist sect. Their history is in:
- Rees, Thomas, and John Thomas. Hanes Eglwysi Annibynol Cymru (History of the Independent Churches in Wales). 5 vols. Vols. 1–4 published by Liverpool, England: Argraffwyd yn Swyddfa y "Tyst Cymreig," 1871–75. Vol. 5 published by Dolgellau, Wales: Argraffwyd a Chyhoeddwyd gan William Hughes, 1891. (For vols. 1, 2, 5, see FHL film 994019 items 1–3; for vols. 3–4, see FHL film 1559405 items 3–4.) View a digital version with some English traslations on Genuki.
- Clifford, D. J. H. My Ancestors Were Congregationalists in England & Wales: With a List of Registers. London, England: Society of Genealogists, 1992. (FHL book 942 K23cd.)
The Family History Library filmed before-1837 Presbyterian records from the Presbyterian Historical Society. The Presbyterian and Congregational churches are now combined. For information and history about either denomination, contact:
- United Reformed Church History Society
86 Tavistock Place
London WC1H 9RT
For information on Presbyterians, see:
- Ruston, Alan R. My Ancestors Were English Presbyterians/Unitarians: How Can I Find Out More About Them? London, England: Society of Genealogists, 1993. (FHL book 942 K23ra.)
- Dr. Williams’ Library. Many congregations did not keep consistent records. In January 1743 officials formed a central birth registry for Independents, Baptists, and Presbyterians called Dr. Williams’ Library.
This registry contains about 50,000 birth records for England and Wales. Information recorded includes the child’s name, parents’ names, birth date, address, names of witnesses, registration information, and sometimes grandparents’ names.
The original records are housed at the Public Record Office. Copies of these records with indexes (to 1837) are in the Family History Library on film. To find the film numbers, look in the Author/Title Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
DR. WILLIAMS’ LIBRARY (LONDON)
Welsh Wesleyan Methodists
There are several groups of Methodists in Wales: Wesleyan, Primitive, New Connexion, and so on. The Wesleyan group is the largest. Some groups recorded their baptisms and burials in the Church of England until the nineteenth century.
The first Welsh Wesleyan Methodist chapel was founded in 1800. This sect grew rapidly in North Wales but was not strong in South Wales. The National Library of Wales houses many of this denomination’s records. Copies of many are on film at the Family History Library.
A comprehensive history of the Welsh Wesleyan Sect is:
- Jones, Hugh. Hanes Wesleyaeth Gymreig (History of Welsh Wesleyans). 4 vols. Bangor, Wales: Llyfrfa Wesleyaidd, 1911–1913. (FHL film 994020;).
For historical material, contact:
- The Methodist Archives and Research Centre
John Rylands University Library
Deansgate, Manchester M3 3EH
To find the location of birth and burial records, contact:
- Wesley Historical Society
34 Spiceland Road
Northfield, Birmingham B31 1NJ
A useful guide for tracing Methodist ancestors is:
- Leary, William. My Ancestors Were Methodists: How Can I Find Out More About Them? 2nd ed. London, England: Society of Genealogists, 1990. (FHL book 942 D27l 1990.)
The Wesleyan Methodist Metropolitan Registry recorded over 10,000 Wesleyan Methodist births and baptisms that occurred between 1773 and 1838 throughout England, Wales, and elsewhere. The records and an index are on microfilm at the Family History Library and in the Public Record Office (see the "Archives and Libraries" section of this outline for the address). To find the records in the Family History Library, look in the Author/Title Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
Wesleyan Methodist Metropolitan Registry at Paternoster Row Register of Births and Baptisms, 1818–1841.
The Calvinistic Methodists began in the late 1730s. Their leaders advocated reforming the Church of England but not separating from it. Societies were formed, and weekday meetings were held for preaching and singing. On Sunday, members attended their local parish church for communion. This changed in 1811 when the Calvinistic Methodists began ordaining their own ministers and keeping their own records. Today, this sect is known as the Presbyterian Church of Wales. The National Library of Wales is the official repository for this sect’s records, however; many before-1837 registers were turned into the Registrar General in 1837.
Society of Friends (Quakers)
Also known as Quakers, the Society of Friends did not have appointed clergy to perform baptisms. The Society recorded births instead. Burial registers usually include the date of death. Quakers also recorded marriages to ensure their validity.
The organization of Quaker religious groups follows:
- The preparative meeting, made up of the local church group, is about the size of a parish.
- The monthly meeting, made up of several preparative (local) groups, is the primary meeting for church affairs, including recording births, marriages, and deaths.
- The quarterly meeting, made up of two to seven monthly meetings, is similar to a diocese and covers roughly a county.
- The yearly meeting, includes representatives from the quarterly meetings and Friends from other countries.
Quakers began keeping registers of births, marriages, and deaths in the late 1650s. The Society made digests of its records to about 1837, which cover some Welsh meetings. The digests are arranged first by date and then alphabetically by surname. Copies of digests and original registers are in the Family History Library. The original records are in the Public Record Office (see the "Archives and Libraries" section of this outline for the address).
Many residents of Wales joined the Society of Friends during its early years. Quakers were persecuted heavily, so many emigrated to Pennsylvania in the United States. Because of this, the Society of Friends almost ceased to exist in Wales after 1750. The most important collection of original Welsh Quaker registers is deposited in the Glamorgan Record Office.
The Society of Friends has a flourishing membership at the present day, has a historical society, and publishes journals. Early records, including digests, are housed at the Society’s London headquarters.
For a valuable booklet on this subject, refer to:
- Milligan, Edward H., and Malcolm J. Thomas. My Ancestors Were Quakers: How Can I Find Out More About Them? London, England: Society of Genealogists, 1983. (FHL book 942 D27m.)
Church Record Indexes
Some county record offices have indexes to church records. Many indexes have been compiled by local family history societies. To learn how to find county record offices or family history society addresses, see the "Archives and Libraries" and the "Societies" sections of this outline.
The Family History Library has microfilm copies of some indexes. Look in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
WALES, [COUNTY] - CHURCH RECORDS - INDEXES
WALES, [COUNTY], [PARISH] - CHURCH RECORDS - INDEXES
The International Genealogical Index is a major index for Welsh parish records. See the "Genealogy" section of this outline for more information.
There are many Welsh marriage indexes. Some are still being compiled by family history societies. The Family History Library has some of these indexes, but others might only be available in Wales. If you find information in an index, check the original record. There may be more information, or the index may contain an error.
Locating Church Records
The Family History Library does not have many parish registers for Wales but does have many bishop’s transcripts. By utilizing the look-up exchange mentioned earlier, you may be able to find a volunteer who is willing to search the parish register for you if it is not available at the library.
To find Welsh church records in the Family History Library, look in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
WALES, [COUNTY], [PARISH] - CHURCH RECORDS
WALES, [COUNTY] - CHURCH RECORDS
The catalog uses the parish names given in Welsh Administrative and Territorial Units. See the "Gazetteers" section of this outline for help in finding a parish name. Local residents may have used the name of the parish patron saint (such as St. John or All Saints) rather than the actual parish name.
For towns with more than one parish, the Family History Library Catalog uses the patron saint’s name and the name of the city to identify different parishes. For example, Cardiff has two parishes: St.John and St. Mary.
Chapelry records are usually listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under the parish with which the chapelry is affiliated.
To locate the chapel where a nonconformist family worshiped, you can use the following published list of chapels:
- Jones, Ieuan Gwynedd, and David Williams. The Religious Census of 1851: A Calendar of the Returns Relating to Wales. Cardiff, Wales: University of Wales Press, 1976, 1981. (FHL book 942.9 B4b no. 30 [South Wales] and 31 (North Wales); fiche 6054483–4.)
Chapel and denominational histories can help you gain a broad understanding of the chapels in a certain district. Most chapel or denominational histories are written in Welsh.
Large-scale ordnance survey maps used with the religious census returns and chapel histories can help you locate chapels. See the "Maps" section of this outline for help in locating maps.
Wales has no single repository of church records although the records are usually available at a county record office or the National Library of Wales. Some sources describing the location or survival of church records are:
- Rawlins, Bert J. The Parish Churches and Nonconformist Chapels of Wales: Their Records and Where to Find Them. Vol. 1. Salt Lake City, Utah: Celtic Heritage Publishing, 1987. (FHL book 942.9 K2rp.) This is a complete guide to parish church records and nonconformist chapels up to 1851 (later for some sects). It covers the counties of Cardigan, Carmarthen, and Pembroke.
- Williams, C. J., and J. Watts-Williams, comp. Cofrestri Plwyf Cymru (Parish Registers of Wales). Aberystwyth, Wales: National Library of Wales, 1986. (FHL book 942 V26ste v. 13.) This book lists all Welsh parish registers, providing the beginning and the ending dates of the registers, locations, and other details about them.
- Ifans, Dafydd, ed. Cofrestri Anghydffurfiol Cymru (Nonconformist Registers of Wales). Aberystwith, Wales: National Library of Wales and Welsh County Archivists’ Group, 1994. (FHL book 942.9 K23c.)
The Internet is another way to access to some church records and indexes. There are lists of people on the Internet who volunteer to search various types of records in certain areas, free of charge. You can locate these lists through the GENUKI website at:
From the above site
- Click [County of your choice]
- Click Genealogy
- Click Look-up Exchange
Records at the Family History Library
The Family History Library has microfilm copies of Welsh parish registers and bishop’s transcripts. To find the film numbers by county and parish, use:
- Family History Library Catalog. Use the "Place Search" or "Keyword Search" options.
- Bishop’s Transcripts. Rev. ed. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1989. (FHL book 942.9 V27b; film 599276.)
The Family History Library has some parish registers, parish register transcripts, bishop’s transcripts, and parish chest materials from the Church of Wales on film. The library also has microfilm copies of the nonconformist records deposited with the Public Record Office (see the "Archives and Libraries" section for the address). In addition, some of the nonconformist records at the National Library of Wales have been filmed.
- National Library of Wales: http://www.llgc.org.uk/
- Society of Friends (Quakers): http://www.archivesnetworkwales.info/cgi-bin/anw/search2?coll_id=76197&inst_id=33&term=
- ↑ The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Research Outline: Wales (Salt Lake City: Corporation of the President, 2000), 18-25.