The tradition of patronymic naming presents unique problems for Welsh family history. This system meant children were given the father’s first name as a surname – meaning the family name could change with every generation. It means that if you’re researching a Welsh line, the further back you go, the more likely it is that your progress will be halted by the custom. More recent Welsh family history research can also be challenging due to the relatively small pool of common surnames, and the shifting anglicised spellings of place names. Thankfully, there are lots of Welsh family history websites with useful guides to help you navigate these common problems and pitfalls.
The main homepage of the National Library of Wales signposts all kinds of information aimed at beginners, plus descriptions of the library’s vast holdings – it’s home to around 950,000 photos, 1,500,000 maps, 5,000,000 digital images and e-resources, and 15km of archives. It holds the Church in Wales Archive, preserving registers of baptisms, marriages and burials, as well as Bishops’ Transcripts, wills and marriage bonds.
One of several important online tools is the Welsh wills probate database, which provides digital images of wills proved in Welsh ecclesiastical courts before the civil probate system was introduced in 1858.
The Wales Collection on family history website Findmypast was launched in 2011 through
a partnership with the NLW and the Welsh County Archivists Group. The collection includes marriages, baptisms and burials, comes from county record office collections across Wales, plus material held by the NLW. Findmypast’s exclusivity deal regarding these records recently expired, and they have now also been published on Ancestry, TheGenealogist and MyHeritage (index only).
The CYMRU 1914 centenary project has seen the digitisation of sources relating to the First World War within libraries, special collections and archives across Wales. It launched in 2013, and you can browse its catalogue by source type – newspapers, journals, sound recordings and more. While you may not find a reference to an ancestor, it has fascinating material which may inspire your research. There’s also the educational Wales at War website, which is building biographies of Welsh men and women who lost their lives.
This is the single-search hub to more than 7,000 collections across 21 archives in Wales – the equivalent of TNA’s Discovery – and also the body which leads all kinds of cross-archive projects. The ‘Find your archive’ tab leads to a list of contributing archives from Aberystwyth University Archives to Wrexham Archives and Local Studies, with descriptions of key collections, contact details and links.
Remember that the Search box near the top of the page conducts searches within the website itself – go back to the homepage to road test the catalogue. A search for ‘Scott’ turned up anti-slavery letters in Aberystwyth and deeds in Denbighshire.
This grants access to around 15 million articles and 1.1 million pages from a huge range of Welsh- and English-language titles, and you can narrow your search to focus on family notices and other announcements. Unlike the British Newspaper Archive, access is completely free. There’s also the NLW’s sister website Welsh Journals, which provides access to journals published in Wales during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Welsh Tithe Maps on the NLW website holds over 300,000 Welsh tithe maps records and their accompanying apportionment documents. The People’s Collection Wales is a project led by the NLW, National Museum Wales and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales. It’s a place where anyone can upload images and stories relating to the past. Material includes records, artefacts, films and audio files drawn from national collections, as well as personal items.
North East Wales Archives is another good county archive website (find the others via Archives Wales). It has digital collections of Denbighshire borough charters, photographs and enclosure maps.
Welsh Coal Mines is a catalogue of mines situated within Welsh coalfields. It also has a database of over 6,000 accidents where there were five or more fatalities. Other resources for Welsh mining include Coalfield Web Materials, Digging up the Past, the Welsh Mines Society and the National Coal Museum for Wales.
Genuki has county guides to resources, societies, archives and pitfalls caused by boundary changes and the Welsh naming system. The FamilySearch Wales Genealogy wiki offers advice, plus there’s a Wales Online Records button leading to FamilySearch collections such as Wales Births and Baptisms 1541-1907, and external sites such as North Wales BMD.
Other handy websites and bodies include the Dictionary of Welsh Biography, the Association of Family History Societies of Wales and the Welsh Family History Archive. Also try family history society websites, such as those covering Clwyd, Dyfed, Gwent, Gwynedd and Powys. There’s also Welsh Mariners, which has an index to around 23,500 merchant mariners active between 1800 and 1945.