Your ancestors in Wales

Your ancestors in Wales

Welsh family history records are derived from the English system of record keeping and you will note the similarity if researching both Welsh and English ancestors. Read on to discover your Welsh ancestors.


A country in its own right, Wales is part of the United Kingdom. It is regarded as a Celtic Nation, emerging in the 5th Century following the Roman withdrawal from Britain. England’s conquest of Wales came in 1282 under Edward I. Between 1535 – 1542 Wales was incorporated into the English Legal System.

The Country is officially bilingual and you’ll note the use of English and Welsh languages in birth, marriage and death certificates under civil registration (which started in 1837). English is widely used in the major genealogy records, however for smaller record sets you may come across Welsh as the written language.

Wales or Cymru; the meaning in Welsh identifies the Welsh as one people, distinct from other peoples. Today Wales is divided into local authority or council divisions (numbering 22). Cardiff is the capital city.

The religion of Wales is overwhelmingly Christian. The Church in Wales (part of the Church of England until 1920) has the largest attendance of all the denominations. Non-Conformist Presbyterian and Methodist religion is practised with Roman-Catholic as the second largest attending faith. Islam is the largest non-Christian faith. Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists represent other faiths.


A unique feature of surnames in Wales was the lack of any convention of taking a permanent surname until the late 17th Century and early 18th Century. Therefore a small range of surnames were taken, hence the large numbers of ancestors with common surnames. If you are researching Welsh ancestors it
would be useful to study Welsh naming traditions.


Birth, Marriage and Death records under civil registration begin in 1837. Before this you’ll need to access Parish Records (Baptism, Marriage and Burial).


1841 – 1911 is available, with the 1891 Census onwards detailing the language spoken (English, Welsh or both).

The National Library of Wales

The National Library of Wales holds a large collection of records and finding aids,
some general and some specific to Wales.

  • indexes to civil registers 1837-1983
  • census returns for Wales 1841-1911
  • the IGI
  • Welsh parish registers
  • Welsh diocesan records
  • Welsh nonconformist records
  • Probate records from Welsh Courts

The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, Wales, SY23 3BU, telephone 01970 632 801, website:

Other useful websites


Research ancestors in other countries





New Zealand




  • Family Tree Magazine, 2016
  • Wikipeadia, accessed 2019
  •, accessed 2019


Robert Parker is a Genealogist and Trainer, based in Kent. He delivers courses, guidance, talks and research services for those interested in tracing their ancestors. See for further details. Contact Robert to discuss your requirements without obligation.

What stories might your ancestors tell?

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