Wales Church History
Effective research in church records requires some understanding of your ancestor’s religion and the events that led to the creation of church records.
In 1531 King Henry VIII declared himself to be supreme head of the Church of England, which became the state religion. Individual church units, called parishes, controlled poor relief, military conscription, and some law enforcement and taxation.
The Church in Wales (Church of England) is also known as the Established, Anglican, or Episcopal Church.
In 1922 an Act of Parliament disestablished the Church of England in Wales. The Church in Wales became independent from the Church of England.
The following major events affected Welsh church and chapel history and records:
1531 Henry VIII recognized as head of the newly created Church of England. All ties with the Pope and the church in Rome severed.
1538Thomas Cromwell ordered all parish ministers to record christenings, marriages, and burials.
1563The Test Act excluded Roman Catholics from governmental offices and fined them for not attending Church of England services.
1588Bishop 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.
1598Parish registers were required to be kept on parchment and previous registers copied onto parchment.
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 Independent congregation in Llanfaches, Monmouthshire.
1642–1660 Civil war caused political and religious upheaval. Parish registers were poorly kept or destroyed.
1645 Some Independent congregation members at Llanfaches 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 freely.
1695–1706 A tax was assessed on parish register entries. To avoid the tax, some people did not register events.
1733 English replaced Latin in many registers. The exact date English was adopted by each parish varies considerably.
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 sect.
1752 The first day of the year changed from 25 March 25 (Lady’s Day) to 1 January.
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.
1812 The George Rose Act required Church of England christening, marriage, and burial records to be kept in separate registers, starting 1 January 1813. Printed forms were used.
1837 Civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths began. 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 Latter-day Saints began preaching in Wales at Overton, Flintshire.
1851 A religious census was taken which indicated that 75 per cent of the people were nonconformists.
1910 The government commissioned a study which determined that more than 25 percent of the people present at religious services regularly attended the Church of Wales.
1922 The Church of Wales became independent from the Church of England by an act of Parliament.
Histories written about individual parishes can provide information on the church and possibly your ancestor. The Family History Library has a good collection of histories about various religious groups. Look in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
WALES - CHURCH HISTORY
WALES, [COUNTY] - CHURCH HISTORY
WALES, [COUNTY], [PARISH] - CHURCH HISTORY
WALES - HISTORY
WALES, [COUNTY] - HISTORY