A gazetteer is a dictionary of place-names. Gazetteers describe towns, villages, parishes, counties, rivers, mountains, population, and other geographical features. The place-names are usually in alphabetical order, similar to a dictionary. Use a gazetteer to look up the name of the place where your family lived and to determine the civil and church jurisdictions over those places. You will need to find the parish name to continue your research. A sample gazetteer entry might be "Llanfihangel-Abercowin, a village and a parish in the district and county of Carmarthen. There are chapels for Calvinist Methodists and Wesleyans."
The same place-name can be used many times in various parts of Wales. A gazetteer can help you identify the most common spellings and the counties that have a place by that name.
Spellings vary widely in Welsh place-names. Check several gazetteers under each probable spelling. For more information on place-names, see "Place-Name Problems" in this section.
Because many people in the same parish had the same name (such as John Thomas), the Welsh often used farm names or birthplaces to identify themselves (John Thomas of Pen-y-Benglog). Farm names, small hamlets, manors, and estates may not be listed in gazetteers. Be aware that many farms have the same names. If the farm name is unusual, the National Library of Wales can help you identify the place. It may be possible for you to find the farm name using other sources such as land tax records, tithe apportionments, or various Ordnance Survey maps. The following gazetteer has information for Wales and England that does list some farm names. Remember that the spelling you have may be a variant of the one in the gazetteer. See:
"The Ordnance Survey." Ordnance Gazetteer of Great Britain: All Names from the 1:50 000 Landranger Map Series. Great Britain: Macmillan, 1992. (FHL book 942 E5o 1992.)
Many place-name problems occur because:
- Welsh place-names can easily be confused with personal names and other words. For example, Tachwedd is Welsh for November. This word could easily be misconstrued as a personal name or place-name.
- Welsh place-names are often descriptive. Many begin with Aber (meaning "estuary" or "mouth of a river") or Llan (meaning "parish" or "church").
- Many place-names are common to two or more counties. Dyffryn is found in every county; it means valley.
- Places are often known by different names at the same time. For example, in Breconshire the parish of Tyr yr Abad is also known as New Church, Llandulas, and Aberdulas.
- Records may not always use the same name to refer to the same place. For example, a couple living at Peterwell, Carmarthenshire had their place of residence listed as Peterwell in some entries and as Ffynnon bedr (the Welsh equivalent of Peterwell) in others.
- Townships, hamlets, farms, and other place- names within a parish are sometimes known by the parish name. The parish of Hope in Flintshire is called Estyn in Welsh. Hope contains a hamlet called Estyn and a township called Hope Owen. Each of these names also designate the parish itself.
- Welsh place-names may use an English spelling. Conversions occur when letters not in the Welsh alphabet are used in the place-name. For example, in Welsh the c is pronounced like the English k, which is not in the Welsh alphabet. Thus, "Cellan" is sometimes spelled "Kellan."
- Because Wales uses both English and Welsh place-names, names can be spelled, spoken, and written in many ways.
People unfamiliar with the Welsh language often misspelled place-names, resulting in unusual interpretations such as Murphy Tredwell for Merthyr Tydfil, Happytarley for Abertillery, or Townroost for Llanrwst.
Place-names evolved over time. For example, Ysgeifiog, a parish and village in Flint, has been called Schivaiau, Escynant, Skeynyave, Ysceifoc, and Skifiog.
Many place-names in Wales begin with "Llanfair." Both currently and in the past, these places are simply called Llanfair. This can create considerable confusion in an area where there are many places with names beginning with "Llanfair."
Some parishes have both a Welsh name and an English name. For example, the Welsh name for Swansea is Abertawe. This is especially true of Pembrokeshire, Glamorganshire, Flintshire, and Monmouthshire. Melville Richard’s Welsh Administrative and Territorial Units lists both the English and the Welsh versions of many place-names.
For a better understanding of Welsh place-names see:
Davies, Dewi. Welsh Place-Names and Their Meanings. Aberystwyth, Wales: The Cambrian News, 198?. (FHL book 942.9 E2d; film 994051 item 2.)
Jones, Bedwyr Lewis. "Place-Names." In Welsh Family History: A Guide to Research. ed. by John and Sheila Rowlands. 2nd ed. Wales: Federation of Family History Societies (Publications) Ltd., 1998, pp.76–83. (FHL book 942.9 D27w 1998.)
Finding Place-Names in the Family History Library Catalog
Place-names in the Family History Library Catalog are listed under the names and counties used before 1974. To find the county under which a town or parish is listed in the catalog, use the "see" references on the first microfiche of the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog for Wales or the Locality Browse on the compact disc version of the Family History Library Catalog.
Because Welsh place-names can have many different spellings, one gazetteer is used by the Family History Library as the standard for spellings. All Welsh places are listed in the Family History Library Catalog by the spellings shown in:
Richards, Melville. Welsh Administrative and Territorial Units: Medieval and Modern. Cardiff, Wales: University of Wales, 1969. (FHL book 942.9 E5w; fiche 6026396.) This work lists medieval, early modern, and modern jurisdictions, such as urban district councils and urban sanitary districts. These were formed from earlier jurisdictions, such as parishes, townships, and hamlets.
Other Welsh Gazetteers
The most reliable and extensive Welsh gazetteer is the one by Melville Richards (mentioned previously). Others are:
Elwyn Davies, ed. Rhestr O Enwau Lleoedd (A Gazetteer of Welsh Place-Names). Cardiff, Wales: University of Wales Press, 1967. (FHL book 942.9 E5b.) This gazetteer has a useful list of place-names. It also contains a Welsh/English glossary of terms relating to places, a mutation table, and a pronunciation guide.
Hill, Ellen, and Del Ora Guymon Cook. A Gazetteer of Wales. 5 vol. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1953. (FHL book 942.9 E5g; film 823795.) This gazetteer incorporates all places listed in Bartholomew’s Gazetteer, Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary, Crockford’s Clerical Directory, The Parish Register Abstract, and Burke’s Key to the Ancient Parishes of England and Wales.
Lewis, Samuel. Topographical Dictionary of Wales. 2 vols. London, England: S. Lewis, 1833. (FHL book 942.9 E5l; film 599780 item 2–3; fiche 6026723.) While many gentlemen’s seats (landed families’ residences), lakes, mountains, and other places are included, they are mentioned under the parish or town in which they are located.
Cassell’s Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland. 6 vols. London, England: Cassell and Company, Ltd., 1894–8. (FHL book 942 E5ca; films 599360–1 and 924936.) This work gives parish names and descriptions.
Some gazetteers are available for a single county such as Pembrokeshire for an even smaller places such as Dinas Powys hundred. Gazetteers and similar place–name guides are found in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under one of the following:
GREAT BRITAIN - GAZETTEERS
WALES - GAZETTEERS
WALES, [COUNTY] - GAZETTEERS
WALES - NAMES, GEOGRAPHICAL
WALES, [COUNTY] - NAMES, GEOGRAPHICAL