Wales Parish Registers (FamilySearch Historical Records)
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Record History and Description
Baptisms, marriages and burials were recorded on blank pages in a bound book or register. The three events were intermixed in the same volume until 1754 when a law was passed requiring marriages to be recorded in a separate book. Banns were recorded in still another book. Preprinted registers were introduced in 1812 and separate registers were kept for baptisms, marriages, and burials. Pre-1812 bishop’s transcripts were usually recorded on loose pieces of paper. After 1812, the transcripts were recorded on the same preprinted forms as parish registers. Entries are generally in chronological order. Some early parish registers are in Latin or Welsh or have occasional entries in Welsh.
An act passed in 1662 required everyone to conform to the Church of England. Those who did not were called nonconformist. When persecution eased at the beginning of the eighteenth century, nonconformity increased. By 1851 approximately 75 percent of the Welsh population was nonconformist, so many were not included in the Church of England registers. However, between 1754 and 1837, nonconformists could not legally marry outside the Church of England except for Quakers and Jews. Therefore nonconformist marriages are often found in the Church of England records. Also sometimes nonconformists did not have burials grounds and so some members were buried in Anglican churchyards and included in the registers. Parish priests began recording baptisms, marriages, and burials in 1537 according to law. Within some parishes, chapelries were created to provide for the worship needs of the parishioner when the parish church was not easily accessible. Chapelries sometimes had the authority to perform baptisms, marriages, and burials, so they kept their own registers. Several parishes formed a deanery, presided over by a dean, several deaneries formed an archdeaconry presided over by an archdeacon, several archdeaconries formed a diocese presided over by a bishop.
In 1598 ministers were required to make annual copies of their registers to an archdeacon or bishop. These copies are referred to as bishop’s transcripts. In Wales these transcripts survive from about 1662. Most begin in the eighteenth century. After civil registration began in 1837, the value of keeping bishops’ transcripts diminished and by 1870 most parishes had stopped creating them.
Marriage Banns are proclamations of intent to marry. Unless the couple had a license, couples were required to have the minister read a statement of their intent to marry for three consecutive Sundays before the marriage so anyone knowing reasons why the couple should not be married could oppose it. Banns were proclaimed in both the parish of the bride and the parish of the groom. They were recorded in separate books in 1754.
In 1914 by an act of Parliament, the Church in Wales became independent from the Church of England. The law didn’t go into effect until 1920.
Parish registers were created to record church events of baptism or christening, marriage, and burial. After 1754 banns were required to be read for three consecutive Sundays before a marriage so that anyone with reasons against the marriage could oppose it. Banns were read in both the bride’s parish and the groom’s parish and were also recorded.
Parish registers are considered fairly reliable and accurate. In July 1837 the government began civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths and information in parish registers and bishops’ transcripts can be compared for verification of information.
The records may contain any of the following information:
- Dates of baptism, marriage, and burial events
- Place of the event is the parish unless otherwise noted in the entry
- Name of person being baptized, married or buried and sometimes of parents, spouses, and other relatives
- Age of person being baptized, married, or buried
- Sex of the child being baptized and sometimes of the deceased
- Residence of the family, marriage partners, or deceased
- Legitimacy of the child in baptismal entries
- Occupation of the father in baptismal entries, or spouses in marriage entries or deceased in burials entries
- Marital status of individuals
How to Use the Records
Parish registers are one of the best records for identifying individuals, parents, spouses, and connecting them to other generations before July 1837 when the government instituted civil registration of births, marriages, and deaths. Civil registration may provide more information such as birth date and mother’s maiden name for birth information. For the post 1837 period, parish registers still play an important role because they are often more readily available than civil registration. Bishop’s transcripts are a back up source for parish registers. If parish registers are unreadable or missing, then you can search the bishop’s transcripts. Differences may occur because one is a handwritten copy of the other. Burial records may include stillbirths or children not christened. Christening records never include stillbirths. Informants may be family members and occupations can be used to distinguish the correct family if more than one family of the same name exists in the parish. In Wales, given names and surnames are so common that it is important to use more than just the name in identifying an ancestor. It is important to use occupation, residence, family links, probate, estate, and court records to make a correct identification.
The Welsh custom of using patronymics is important to understand when doing research in Wales. Patronymics is the practice of using the father’s given name as the child’s surname. 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. For a female child, the word “ferch” or “verch”, meaning “daughter of” was used.
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