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How to research your ancestors in Welsh Parish Records

How to search for your ancestors in the Welsh Parish Church Registers

Cefu Llys Church, Llandrindod Wells


If your ancestors came from Wales then one of the most important record sets that you are going to want to use is those of the Parish Churches. Don’t be confused that they are Church of England churches until the second decade of the 20th century, as the Anglican churches in Wales were a part of the Established Church until 1920. You may also think that because your ancestors worshiped in the Chapels of some of the other Christian denominations that Parish Church registers are not relevant for you. Most often this is certainly not the case! 


Welsh Anglican Parish Records were created by the parish church for each area of the country. In their pages can be found recorded the details of millions of people at the time of their baptism, marriage or burial and they will often include ancestors who may have worshiped at a nonconformist chapel. While you may know that your past family were Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians or Unitarians they may still have come to the Parish Church for a christening, wedding or a funeral service for reasons that we will look at later. These Parish Church records can reveal information about your family members that will enable you to find names, get back a generation or more and build your family tree.

An arm of the state

Thomas Cromwell chief minister to King Henry VIII from 1532 to 1540


Before 1837, and the introduction of civil registration of births, marriages and deaths, the records made by the local Anglican Parish Church are where you will find the vital events of your ancestors recorded. The keeping of these records began in Henry VIII’s time when his Lord Privy Seal and Vicegerent, Thomas Cromwell, instructed the clergy in England and Wales that they were to record the baptisms, marriages and burials that they performed in their churches. While records were started in 1538 some parishes didn’t begin recording these ceremonies until 1598 and very few of the early records survive.


At the time of the Reformation, and the break from Rome, the ancient Catholic parish churches In Wales became a part of the Church of England and the Established Church. Similar to the parish churches in England, they acted as an arm of the state in carrying out the process of recording details of their parishioners. It was only in 1920 that the Church in Wales was disestablished and today it is fully independent of both the state and the Church of England while still being, however, an independent member of the Anglican Communion.


How can they help my research?

The church registers that the Welsh parish churches kept for generations can be fascinating for the researcher to use. They can reveal to you the names of an ancestor’s parents in a baptism entry and so allow you to get back another generation when previously you were in the dark as to who the parents had been. Likewise, the marriage of an ancestor listed in the page of a parish register can introduce you to the name of the person that they married. This is especially exciting if this is the first time you have found their name! 


Early registers were composite – that is they contained all three records in the same volume. Sometimes the records were separated into different sections and in other cases they were chronological and written on the same page. In 1754, however, this changed when a new law required that marriages had to be recorded in a separate book and banns of marriages – public proclamations of a couple’s intent to marry – were now to be recorded in yet another volume.


A composite parish register for Llanthewy Rytherch with baptisms, marriages and burials all on the same page


The next significant change happened in 1812 when pre-printed registers were introduced for baptisms, marriages, and burials, and separate registers were then kept by the church for all three. Pre-printed registers are useful for family historians as they define what information was required to appear in a record and so the vicar was guided to enter the details that often were missed in the earlier examples of parish registers.


In the later printed form registers there are extra details to be had such as whether the parties had been married before, if they were both from the parish or, if not, the name of the other person’s parish. Researchers are also able to note whether the bride and groom could write or whether they had signed the register with their mark, such as a simple cross. The names of witnesses, who were sometimes close relatives and so could be useful in researching the family, may also be found in these documents.


Marriages from 1813 in parish of Llanycil, Merionethshire found online at TheGenealogist [1]


Example of 1906 Marriage Register from Gabalfa, Cardif, Glamorgan found online at TheGenealogist [1]


What if my ancestor was a nonconformist?

Not all ancestors will have worshiped regularly at the Anglican Parish Church for their area as nonconformist denominations were particularly strong in Wales. Nonconformist churches are those that do not conform to the doctrines of the Anglican church, that is they dissent from the once established Church of England in Wales and its successor the Church in Wales. Examples of Protestant nonconformist churches include the Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Unitarian denominations, and the Quakers (or the Society of Friends). 


You can search for nonconformist ancestors in the records that were collected by the General Register Office in 1837, when civil registration began, and again in 1857. Many of these are now kept at The National Archives and are filed under catalogue series codes RG 4, RG 5, RG 6, and RG 8, all available to search on the official partner of TNA for these records.[2]   Other registers could have been deposited at the National Library of Wales (Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru) [3] or in County Record Offices. Sadly, however, many have simply not survived the years and are lost to us. 


Birth and baptism registers make up the majority of records in these nonconformist collections. Though there are a number of burial registers also included amongst them, in RG 4, RG 6 and RG 8, The reason for this is that even if your ancestor was from one of the other denominations, before the 1850s, the vast majority of burials were in the churchyard of the local Parish Church and so they are recorded in the parish registers of the Church of England in Wales. Very few dissenters had their own burial grounds and so this explains the lack of burials in these series. 


Another reason to search for your ancestor in the Anglican Parish Records is that there were only a small number of marriage registers amongst the nonconformist collections. The reason for this was that between 1754 and 1837 only Church of England marriages were considered legal by the state. An exception to this was that Quakers and Jews were exempt from this law and RG 6 contains exclusively Quaker records.


How to find your Welsh ancestors in the church records

As an example, we are going to search for the much admired Elizabeth 'Betsi' Cadwaladr who was famous for working as a nurse in the Crimean War alongside Florence Nightingale, but having her differences with the great nursing pioneer. Betsi was from a working class family who lived in the small village of Llanycil in Gwynedd, the county that was known as Merionethshire at the time.



We can search Welsh Parish Records for Elizabeth Cadwaladr using the information that is known about her. If you are looking for your own ancestor it is likely that you already have some details to go on. Perhaps you know the name of the village, town or city that they came from? Maybe you know their date of birth, having already found them in the census collection? Stories about their lives can often give the researcher a starting point, but it is important to realise that family tales can get exaggerated or embellished over time. They are best used as a basis for further research where you aim to prove or disprove them.


In Betsi’s case we know from stories about her that her birth had been around 1799 and that she called Llanycil, a village near Bala in Wales her home. For our search we are going to use the online Welsh Parish Records at TheGenealogist [1] rather than going physically to an archive.


Using the Master Search on this site we enter Elizabeth as a forename and Cadwaladr as the surname while ignoring her nickname, Betsi. In this case we know her birth was around 1799 and so we could choose a search two years either side of this date (We can adjust the leeway on this from the +/- dropdown on the Master Search). We could enter the place name, or any other details that will appear on the records such as the father’s and/or mother’s forename, into the Keywords box before hitting Search.


Use TheGenealogist [1] online Master Search to look for All records from Birth & Baptisms


This returns us a number of results and, by referring to her family story that she had been born in Llanycil in Merionethshire, we are able to see that one of the results we have is for a baptism in that particular community. 


A click on the link icon to View the Original Image provides us with the register page on which we can see, written by hand in May 1789, Elizabeth of David Cadwaladr and Judeth his wife. There follows the number 26 for the 26th day of the month. 


Image of the original page in the Parish Register of Llanycil 1789


Welsh or English spelling?

Betsi’s father was better known by the Welsh spelling of his name as Dafydd but here the vicar, or parish clerk, has used the anglicised version of his name. By the time of Betsi’s father’s death in 1834 the church registers were now kept in seperate printed books (first introduced by an Act of Parliament in 1812) where Baptisms, Marriages and Burials were in separate volumes, but Dafydd is still recorded as David. 


1834 Parish Register for Llanycil


My nonconformist ancestor is in the Anglican Parish Register!

These entries in the Anglican Parish Church Register highlight an interesting point that researchers should try to keep in mind. We have seen above that burials of nonconformist ancestors were common in Parish Churchyards, because the other denominations were less likely to have their own burial grounds near to their chapels. Everyone, however, had the right to be buried in the local parish Churchyard under the law, though it was only in 1880 that disenter ministers could carry out the burial service and so it would have been the Church of England vicar or curate who carried out most of our ancestors’ services. 


For a period between 1754 and 1837 only Church of England marriages, or those of Quakers and Jews, were considered legal by the state and so we would expect to find our nonconformist ancestors also being married in the Anglican registers. But, as in the example of the Cadwaladr family, you may also find that they baptised their child in the Anglican church as well.


Now here is a surprise!


What is unusual about this story is that Betsi’s father, Dafydd Cadwaladr (1752–1834)[4] was actually a Welsh Calvinistic Methodist preacher! This is a great example of why you should still look in the Established Church records even when you know that your ancestors were nonconformists. Dafydd Cadwaladr had been a farm worker until about 1771 when he took up a position as a servant working for the Methodist preacher William Evans. Dafydd knew his bible by heart, and about 1780 he began preaching himself, but he was not a minister. The fact is that until 1811 the Calvinistic Methodists had no ministers ordained by themselves.


The Welsh Parish Records are unlikely to still be with the incumbent of the actual church and are deposited with the archives for that county. They are, however, now easily searchable online with images of the actual register pages. TheGenealogist.co.uk has worked with the input of Welsh records experts from all the Welsh archives, to painstakingly check and improve all the place names in this record set. Chapels of ease are recorded, as are the parent parishes of modern parishes and variant spellings in the English and Welsh languages are included in this collection online. This should mean that searches for your ancestor in the parish records, which previously might have turned up no results, will now have a much greater chance of being found. With TheGenealogist’s keyword search this has made it surprisingly easy to find the records that have been used in this article.


[1] https://www.thegenealogist.co.uk/welsh-parish-records

[2] https://www.thegenealogist.co.uk/non-conformist-records/

[3] https://www.library.wales/

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dafydd_Cadwaladr

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Additional R.A.F. Operations Record Books released on TheGenealogist

Further R.A.F. Operations Record Books now released on TheGenealogist


TheGenealogist has today released additional new R.A.F. records that are fully searchable by name, aircraft, location and many other fields, making it simpler to find your air force ancestors.


In a release of over 1.8 million records, this batch of R.A.F. Operations Record Books (ORBs) joins TheGenealogist’s huge military records collection and includes entries for the famous children’s author Roald Dahl when he flew Hurricanes in WW2.


Hurricanes of No. 80 Squadron in Palestine, June 1941 as flown by Roald Dahl

The Operations Record Books record the stories of day to day operations of units and so will give the researcher an idea of action that took place as well as give insights into the everyday lives on the bases. You can use this collection to follow an airman’s war time experiences by searching these fully searchable Air Ministry operations record books which cover various Royal Air Force, dominion and Allied Air Force squadrons that came under British Command. The AIR 27 records allow the family history researcher a fascinating insight into their relatives' time while serving in a number of units of the air force. 


The ORBs give summaries of events and can reveal encounters with the enemy, pilots who went missing or were shot down, plane crashes, as well as less traumatic details such as weather and places patrolled by the aircraft and where the squadrons were based as the war wore on. As aircrew personnel are named in these Operations Record Books, researchers wanting to follow where an ancestor had been posted to and what may have happened to them will find these records extremely useful. 


Operations Record Book for No. 80 Squadron on TheGenealogist


Family historians will find the duties recorded in these documents interesting when they reveal the assignments that a serviceman took part in. Examples include Bombing, Convoy Escort, Submarine Hunt, Fleet protection, Attacking Aerodromes and Shipping, Dive Bombing Raids and more. 


Use these records to: 

  • Add colour to an aircrewman’s story 
  • Read the war movements of personnel in air force units
  • Discover if a pilot, navigator, radio operator or gunner is mentioned in the action
  • Find if an airman is listed for receiving an Honour or an Award
  • Note the names of squadron members wounded, killed, or who did not return
  • Easily search these National Archives records and images


This expands TheGenealogist’s extensive Military records collection.


Read TheGenealogist’s feature article: R.A.F. Operations Record Books that tell a storyteller’s story: https://www.thegenealogist.co.uk/featuredarticles/2020/raf-operations-record-books-that-tell-a-storytellers-story-1356/

These records and many more are available to Diamond subscribers of TheGenealogist.co.uk

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Genealogical Mystery: The Vanished Child by M J Lee

Here is a novel that could keep you enthralled as the evenings draw in. Although it is a work of fiction it contains some useful tips about tracing ancestors who were part of the child migrant programme.

The Vanished Child by M J Lee is the fourth in the Jayne Sinclair Genealogical Mystery series and sees the ex-police detective and Genealogist investigator search for a long lost man. The researcher must find the older half-brother that her elderly step-mother never knew she had until her own mother confessed on her death bed to having had an illegitimate first child.

The boy had been placed in a children's home while his mother attempted to get back on her feet, only for him to be shipped off to Australia before she and her new husband could claim him back.

Background to the novel

In the 1920s to 1970s more than 130,000 children were sent to a “better life” in Australia and Canada, under the child migrant programme.

The children ranged in age between three and 14 and mostly came from deprived backgrounds and were already in some form of social or charitable care, such as the boys' home in the fictional story. At the time, it was believed that the children would lead happier lives in their new countries and charities such as Barnardo’s and the Fairbridge Society, the Anglican and Catholic churches and local authorities helped with the organisation of their emigration.

The truth is that many ended up being abused or suffering hardship.


Well worth a read:

The Vanished Child by M J Lee

Here is the blurb on the author's website:

What would you do if you discovered you had a brother you never knew existed?

On her deathbed, Freda Duckworth confesses to giving birth to an illegitimate child in 1944 and temporarily placing him in a children's home. She returned later but he had vanished. 

What happened to the child? Why did he disappear? Where did he go? 

Jayne Sinclair, genealogical investigator, is faced with lies, secrets, and one of the most shameful episodes in recent history as she attempts to uncover the truth.

Can she find the vanished child?

This book is the fourth in the Jayne Sincalir Genealogical Mystery series, but can be read as a stand alone novel.

Every childhood lasts a lifetime.



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Lambeth Lloyd George Domesday records added to TheGenealogist’s Map Explorer™

Lambeth Property records added to TheGenealogist


TheGenealogist has released the records of 83,498 individuals for the Lambeth area into its Lloyd George Domesday Survey property ownership and occupancy record set. This unique online resource includes maps and field books and gives family historians the chance to discover where an ancestor lived in the period just before and as the First World War began. This is a great tool to use with the 1911 Census giving lots of additional information about your ancestors' home, land, outbuildings and property. By making use of TheGenealogist’s powerful Map Explorer the researcher can see how the landscape where their ancestor lived or worked changed as the years have passed.


The maps are linked to field books containing descriptions of the property, as well as revealing owners and occupiers, all of which have been sourced from The National Archives and are being digitised by TheGenealogist. With this release it is possible to precisely locate where an ancestor lived on a number of large scale, hand annotated maps for this part of London. These plans include plots for the exact properties at the time of the survey and are layered over various georeferenced historical maps and modern base maps on the Map Explorer™. This resource enables the researcher to thoroughly investigate the area in which an ancestor lived even if the streets were bombed out of existence in the Blitz and the modern redevelopment does not follow the same lines as the previous roads had. 


Roads on the Lloyd George Domesday Survey have disappeared from the modern map

  • TheGenealogist’s Lloyd George Domesday records link individual properties to extremely detailed maps used in 1910-1915
  • Fully searchable by name, county, parish and street
  • The maps will zoom down to show the individual properties as they were in the 1910s
  • The transparency slider reveals a modern street map underlay
  • Change the base map displayed to more clearly understand what the area looks like today

Lambeth records cover the civil parishes of Bishop’s, Brixton, Brixton North, Clapham North, Clapham South, Lower Norwood, Marsh North, Marsh South, Norwood, Prince’s, Stockwell North, Stockwell South, Streatham and Vauxhall.


As we mark Remembrance Sunday this weekend read TheGenealogist’s article on Lambeth: A haven for the troops and birthplace of a V.C. hero: https://www.thegenealogist.co.uk/featuredarticles/2020/a-haven-for-the-troops-and-the-birthplace-of-a-vc-hero-1350/

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Liz Carr's episode of Who Do You Think You Are? was fascinating

The Who Do You Think You Are? episode on BBC One this week was a fascinating programme.

Silent Witness actor Liz Carr, who is best known for her role in the crime drama as the forensic scientist Clarissa Mullery explored an ancestor involved in an assault. This made her smile as she admits that she loves crime!