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Pot Pourri

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This is a randomly selected cross section of items I thought likely to be of interest to the family historian.

This information has been gleaned from a variety of books I have access to, many of which are listed on Research Books.
I have not gone out of my way to plagiarize other people's work but facts are facts and we all have to get our data from somewhere.

If it isn't specifically stated otherwise then a definition will generally apply to both England and Wales by default,
However, this assumption may not always be correct e.g an actual difference in Welsh/English custom/practice hasn't been identified by the writer.

BannsBaptistsBastardy Bonds
Bidding LettersBishops' TranscriptsBoroughs
Chapelry/Chapel of easeChattelCommon Land
ConstableCoroner's Records/InquestsCounties
Court of ChanceryCourts of Great SessionsDeed Poll
DomesdayElectoral Registers/Poll Books/Voting rightsEnglishry
Extra parochialFairsFelony
 GavelkindGuardians of the Poor
HearersHearth Tax 
Hiring FairsHundredHusbandman
Land TaxLand tenureLandsker
Marriage AllegationMemorial InscriptionsMethodists
MilitiaNon-conformistsParish Registers
Parishes, what are they?PatronymicPeerage
Peppercorn RentPoor Law UnionPresbyterians
PrimogenitureProhibited Degrees of MarriagePuritanism
QuakersQuarter SessionsRegistration Districts
Regnal yearsRelationshipsRoman Catholics
Sanitary DistrictsSettlementSuicide
TithesTithing - see ParishesTownship - see Parishes
UnitariansVestryVicars etc
WelshryWife sellingWindow Tax


Latin for 'otherwise'.

When a person changed his surname, or was known by more than one name, he might sometimes be described in records as " Smith alias Jones ".
The term had no disreputable connotation.
In a few cases both names joined by alias were retained for several generations and so became the equivalent of our hyphen in a modern 'double barrelled name'.
Once hereditary surnames became established, a change of name might be caused by the inheritance of property from a maternal relative, by a young person's being adopted, by becoming known by a stepfather's surname, or by a number of other causes.

In legal papers a married woman often had her maiden name added as an alias to show her connection with the matter in hand.

Another use of the word alias is with illegitimate births where the child might carry an alias eg John Smith alias Jones where the parents were not married.
It seems that then John Smith's children would sometimes carry on their name as "Smith alias Jones, and their children too.

(Content last reviewed 31 Aug 2011 - Gareth H)


From the C14 apprenticeship was the system by which a man learned a trade that was controlled by a guild. An Act of 1562/3 provided that the apprenticeship term to be served, as a condition of gaining the right to practise a craft, should be at least 7 years. The terms of the apprenticeship were set out in a document known as an Indenture one copy of which was signed by the child's parents [or guardian], and the other by the master. A master would agree to teach the child a trade and also feed, clothe and house him for which he received a payment [premium]. These indentures are potentially valuable sources of research material since they usually name the master, the apprentice, the latter's father [possibly his trade and residence], and perhaps even the date and place of the apprentice's birth.
Although few personal copy indentures have survived, many apprenticeship records are extant in guild, parish and taxation records.

The detailed coverage of all types of extant records cannot be covered here, the book Ancestral Trails by Mark Herber [see Research Books section of the Help Page] has an extensive section dealing with the subject. However, the 1710 Stamp Act caused apprenticeships to be taxed and therefore a register was kept for tax purposes up until 1811.
After 1750 the information is less full but before that should have the names and residences of all parties to the indenture.
See here for apprenticeship registers held at The National Archives

There are in fact two types of apprenticeships, trade and poor. In practice the requirements for acceptance into trade [or guild] apprenticeships usually involved not only money but property qualification too and this would have put them out of reach of the labouring poor. In fact an C16 law made trade apprenticeships. un-available to children whose fathers were involved in husbandry or were labourers.

From the mid C16 parish officials were able to apprentice out poor children whose parents were unable to maintain them. Such apprentices were not subject to tax so do not appear in the above mentioned tax registers.They were however the concern of the parish and may be referred to in the Vestry Minutes.Where they exist, the latter may be available for searching at the county RO or the NLW.

Apart from Herber's book already mentioned these above notes also owe much to a reading of Welsh Family History, 2nd ed, edited by J & S Rowlands. [see the Research Books section of this Help Page]

Apprenticeship introduction - on British History Online

The online records of Earls Colne parish, Essex have a selection of Apprenticeship Indentures entries which will help to demonstrate their use, here is one such example from that site

  • "Apprenticeship Indentures 1689; this indenture made1.12.1689 that Humph Ruggles and Thos Payne churchwardens of Earls Colne and Simon Overell and Wm Augar overseers of the poor by the consent of justices of the peace whose names are hereunto subscribed have put and placed Hester Jenner a poor child of the said parish apprentice to Jn Jenner of the parish of St Giles Colchester carpenter with him to dwell and serve from the day of the date of these presents until the said apprentice shall accomplish her full age of twenty one years now aged about 10yrs according to statute etc during all which term the said apprentice her said master faithfully shall serve in all lawful business according to her power wit and ability and honestly orderly and obediently in all things demean and behave herself towards her master and all his during the said term and the said Jn Jenner for himself his executors and administrators doth covenant and grant the said churchwardens and overseers etc that the said Jn Jenner the said apprentice in the art and mystery of housewifery and all things thereto belonging shall teach and instruct or cause to be taught and instructed and shall during the term aforesaid provide sufficient meat drink apparel lodging washing and other things fit for an apprentice and also shall and will so provide for the said apprentice that she shall be not in any way a charge to the said parish or parishioners of the same but of and from all charges shall and will save the parish and parishioners harmless etc and at the end of the said term shall make provide allow and deliver unto the said apprentice double apparel of all sorts good and new that is to say a good new suit for the Holy days and another sort for working days in witness whereof the parties abovesaid to these present indentures interchangeably have put their hands and seals the day and year above written Jn Jenner Humph Rugels Thos Paine churchwarden Wm Augar overseer Simon Overalloverseer sealed and delivered in the presence of Robt Wright Peter Robinson justices of the peace Thos Weeley Wm Eldred "

(Content last reviewed 31 Aug 2011 - Gareth H)


Banns of marriage; a proclamation of intended marriage, repeated three times at weekly intervals in the parish churches of both the bride and bridegroom.
To dispense with banns required a marriage licence [see also Marriage Allegation].
Both banns and licences were valid for 3 months.
In 1753, Hardwicke's Marriage Act brought Banns Registers into regular use, sometimes in separate books, sometimes in the parish marriage registers.
A comparatively small number of Banns Books survive, the requirement to register banns continued until 1812.
A banns record by itself is of course no guarantee that the marriage itself actually took place. People could always change their minds at the last minute, or parents might have stepped in to stop minors marrying, or previous spouses have come forward to prevent a bigamous marriage, the list goes on.

Marriages are sometimes said to take place " by certificate", before 1837 that would likely mean that one party came from another parish and had to provide written evidence [a certificate] that the banns had properly been called in the other parish too, and no objection made.
After 1837 it may refer to a Registrar's certificate issued after notice of the intended marriage had been posted for the requisite 3 weeks in the RO, and when the marriage subsequently took place in a church.

(Content last reviewed 31 Aug 2011 - Gareth H)


The English Baptist movement was founded in 1611 in Amsterdam by John Smith [Smyth], an English puritan in exile who had fled the persecution of dissenters during the reign of Elizabeth I. One of his followers came to London in 1612 and formed the first Baptist church in England.That was the origin of the General Baptist denomination; in 1633 a church of Independents broke away and formed the first Calvinistic or Particular Baptist church in London. In the C18 many Baptist churches became Unitarian in theology.

Baptists were sometimes referred to as Anabaptists although Baptists didn't tend to use it themselves.

There were two main groupings of Baptists, those who believed in general salvation [Arminianism] and thus called General Baptists, and those who believed in the Calvinist doctrine, usually known as Particular Baptists but also as just Calvinistic Baptists according to the example below noted in the 1851 Religious Census returns

  • Hermon Calvinistic Baptist Erected in 1850 Daniel Jones, Minister, Llanelly

Yet a third group known as Strict Baptists [or Strict and Particular Baptists] only allowed communion to those accepted into membership.

The central creed of the Baptist faith was that they believed that only those who had made a personal commitment and decided for themselves, should be baptised. They considered sprinkling water on babies, who knew nothing of what was happening, to be absurd. However, beliefs often degenerate when put into practice and what actually happened was that baptism became almost as automatic for teenagers as it was for infants of other churches. A whole Sunday School class would be prepared and it would take a lot of courage to stand out from the rest by refusing.

"The ceremony of baptism was an emotionally charged occasion and the large chapels provided a great background. The floor in front of the pulpit was lifted to reveal a tiled pool and a tiled passage leading under the pulpit. Each candidate for baptism, in a white dress or white shirt and dark trousers would be led, through the dim watery passageway, out into the main pool under the full glare of chapel lights and the intense silent scrutiny of up to 1000 people. The minister would hold them by the nape of the neck and their clasped hands and plunge them backwards into the water saying "I baptise you my brother/sister in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen." As they were lifted out of the water, the silence was dramatically broken as the great organ and congregation thundered out "Hallelujah. Glory to Him forever." After all the prepared candidates had been baptised the minister issued an invitation for anyone else who wanted to come forward. An expectant, almost fearful hush followed. Sometimes, those who had been moved by the drama and emotion of the occasion, walked forward to receive immediate immersion." [contributed by a Glamorgan mailing list subscriber].

The first Baptist church in Wales was established in 1649 at Ilston, Swansea. (See its entry on Genuki)


  • The non baptism of children as such is obviously a problem area for researchers, especially in the C17 & C18' but by the early C19 many Baptist congregations had started to keep birth registers.
  • You can't access a comprehensive archive of Baptist church books, there isn't one, each chapel is responsible for its own records.
  • You can't look at an index of Baptist births, marriages and deaths, such a thing just doesn'texist.

To fully understand the paucity of extant Baptist records in public repositories, see the initial Chapel Records section of the West Glamorgan Archives online catalogue.

[see also Non-conformists]

There is a book for further reading " My Ancestors were Baptists " by G R Reed, published by the SOG, 4th ed.

(Content last reviewed 1 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Illegitimacy was not unusual in earlier centuries, or for people to marry after a child was born. If a child was born to an unmarried mother then the parish records might not name the father although the parish overseer would have been keen to know who he was in view of the need to make him liable for the child's maintenance. Voluntary payments by the father to parish officials would often be recorded in the parish records, as would details of any indemnification bonds, otherwise known as bastardy bonds, where the father agreed to pay any future costs of the parish vis a vis the infant in question.

Records of bastardy bonds might be found amongst the parish poor law records, the vestry minute books or even the records of quarter sessions. The most likely place to find these is the relevant county archives office [RO], they will at least know what material is extant and where.

The People's Collection Wales has one example, the accompanying text says;

"Memorandum of Recognizance of William Hughes of 'Tyddin bach' in the parish of Caerhun, sawyer, in the case of bastardy, namely that William Hughes is the father of the child of Elizabeth Owen of Llwydfaen Isa in the parish of Caerhun"

The online records of Earls Colne parish, Essex have a selection of bastardy bond entries which will help to demonstrate their use, here is one such example from that site

  • 1724 "Sam How of Glensford Suffolk bound to Jn Hatch and Ambrose Stowers churchwardens and Geo Wall overseer of Earls Colne in 100li5.8.1724 condition that Sam How indemnify the churchwardens etc re a female bastard lately born of Eliz Whittle of Clare Suffolk which said Sam How by his own voluntary confession doth acknowledge himself father Sam How witnesses Rich Androwes Rich Morris

(Content last reviewed 1 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


The bidding letter was an invitation to a wedding celebration, normally at the home of one of the parents. Included with the invitation was a request for gifts. The latter could take the form of either repayment of donations previously given by the bride/groom or family members, or donations by persons not hitherto associated in this way.In order to maximise the number of gifts the names and relationships of many members of both families were appended and it is these which are of potential interest to family historians. The bidding could take place after the actual marriage. An associated document was the bidding account book in which a record of the receipts was kept. Around 500 bidding letters are known to have survived,mostly from the C19, hardly any account books though.

The tradition of bidding letters is largely confined to south west Wales, mainly CMN together with border country in neighbouring counties of PEM, CGN, BRE and GLA

There is also reference to "biddings" in a book by David Jenkins - The agricultural community in south west Wales at the turn of the twentieth century...quoting....

" The neithior or bidding was in effect.. ...a customary form of savings club. A man or woman started to contribute sums of money or in kind during his teens, he drew on the club on marriage, and continued to pay into it for the rest of his life, both in order to repay contributions he had received on his marriage and in order to claim repayment on behalf of his children when they came to marry ".

Below is the text of a Bidding copied from the original at the NLW;

" September 19th, 1832
Having lately entered the Matrimonial State, we purpose to make a Bidding, on the occasion, on Thursday, the 11th Day of October, 1832, at the Young Woman's Father's House, called Creigiau, in the Parish of Manardeifi; when and where the favor of your good company is most humbly solicited, and whatever Donation you will be pleased to confer on us then, will be thankfully received and cheerfully repaid whenever called for on a similar occasion,

By your obedient humble Servants

The Young Man's Father and Mother, (John and Hannah Evans) desire that all Gifts of the above nature due to them, be returned to the Young Man on the said Day, and will be thankful for all favors granted. Also, The Young Woman's Father and Mother, (John and Sarah Jones) desire that all Gifts of the above nature due to them, be returned to the Young Woman on the said Day, and will be thankful for all favors granted.

Isaac Thomas, Printer, Cardigan "

The People's Collection Wales has several further examples of bidding letters and here is a general commentary from one of them (Gathering the Jewels)

"Before the advent of the 'penny post' a 'gwahoddwr' or bidder was engaged to call at the houses of friends and acquaintances and deliver the invitation verbally. However, from the late eighteenth century onwards, the bidding letter became increasingly popular. Although the bidding letter shared many of the characteristics of the 'stori wadd' (bidding story), in that it adhered to a fairly set pattern, it undoubtedly lacked much of the humour which was evident in the oral presentation. By the end of the nineteenth century, both traditions had almost died out in Wales. "

(Content last reviewed 1 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


A copy (or transcription) of one year's entries in a parish register were sent by each parish church incumbent to his bishop, usually at Easter.
This practice was made general in 1598 although in some dioceses it had been customary from Queen Elizabeth I's reign.

It is common place to find gaps, errors and omissions in the extant Bishop's Transcripts (BTs) although they sometimes contain entries and valuable details omitted from the original register.
BTs should be treated as a check on registers and a substitute when registers have gaps or are themselves missing. [See also Diocese and Parish Registers.]

Most BT's are held at the NLW, although there may be copies at county Records Offices (Archives) too, see the Genuki parish pages for details, here is a typical example of how these are shown there.

You can apply to the NLW for photocopies of BT entries - see their Enquiries Service page for details

Bear in mind that the BTs, and not the PRs (Parish Registers) were used by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for compiling the original IGI for Welsh parishes

(Content last reviewed 1 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Any kind of movable property

As against realty, which would include a freehold property

A more extensive term than "goods" or " effects.

In old wills it is sometimes written "cattel", causing doubt as to its true meaning. Both cattel [beasts] and chattel come from the Old English and Old French words meaning property, and the Latin catallum served both meanings.

(Content last reviewed 2 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


The Congregationalist non-conformist denomination was not founded by a single person and did not form a single church but an early leader was the Separitist church founded by Robert Browne in Norwich in the C16. Its followers were at first called Separatists or Brownists, then Independents and finally Congregationalists.

The Separitist ethic is well explained by Browne's conviction that " a Christian had no need of a Bishop's consent to preach the gospel ". Congregationalists believed in the free association of the godly into independent groups which had their own minister and were run by deacons or elders appointed by the congregation; but without higher authority. These separate congregations held to no particular religious theory, the service being a balance between the minister's and the congregation's beliefs.

They were however firmly suppressed, and in 1608 Browne's followers emigrated for a time to Amsterdam to escape persecution. But some returned, and in 1620 the church provided the London contingent of the passengers of the Mayflower when she sailed for America. Although the Pilgrim Fathers are associated with Plymouth in Devon, the main party had been drawn from exiles in the Netherlands.

In a purely Welsh context, largely due to the influence of returning New World settlers, the first Independent church in Wales was founded at Llanvaches in MON in 1639.

When the monarchy was restored after the Commonwealth , the 1662 Act of Uniformity placed legal disabilities upon the sect, as it did upon other nonconformists. This was the period of the " Great Ejectment", almost 2000 dissenting congregations and their ministers were forced to leave the parish churches and reform in cottages and barns, requiring discretion and not a little secrecy. Although the persecution was ended under William and Mary, by the 1689 Act of Toleration, meeting places were still subject to granting of licences.

In the C17 and C18 the terms Congregationalists and Independents were interchangeable, in fact some Presbyterian churches were also described as 'independent' by virtue of being so from the Church of England. In the C19 Congregationalists became a more defined denomination, still a voluntary association of independent churches.

In 1742/3 a register of births for the Three Denominations [Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Baptists] was started by Dr Williams's Library.
The 1753 Hardwicke Act declared that only marriages conducted in Anglican churches were to be legal.
1832 saw the Union of Congregationalist Churches inaugurated, and five years later, when civil registration began, marriages were allowed by Congregationalist ministers as long as a Registrar was present too, that latter restriction not being lifted until 1898.

In 1840 nearly all known registers were lodged with the Registrar General, then at the PRO (now National Archives), others were added in 1858, and the Three Denominations registers too. Some of the undeposited registers have since been published. The earliest registers of baptisms and burials began in 1644 but few are extant earlier than the late C18. Sundry records and histories of individual churches are kept at the Congregational Library, London.

It should be born in mind that the nonconformist ethic was anti authoritarianism by definition and so many Independent/Congregational chapels expressed their independence only too well by discontinuing the practice of keeping registers altogether. The end result is only too well known to the frustrated researcher in Wales.

Further reading ;

  • " My Ancestors were Congregationalists in England & Wales" SOG 1992
    • From the above book;-
      • In 1850 there were c 500 Congregational causes in Wales, c 680 by 1972, and c 450 from the Union of Welsh Independents' site (see below)
      • In 1972 the United Reformed Church (UR) came into being, in effect an union between the Presbyterian Church of England, the Congregational Union and the Churches of Christ. Over 250 churches unable to unite formed the Congregational Federation (CF), and a further 44 formed the Evangelical Federation of Congregational Churches (EFCC). About 25 chapels declined any association at all, now known as Independent Congregational Churches (IC). The Welsh Independents (WI) declined to join the URC although they are affiliated to the Congregational Union [Confused ??]

[see also Non-conformists]

Related web sites ;

(Content last reviewed 4 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


This is a Civil Court, it originated in medieval times when aggrieved subjects often petitioned the King himself , and courts evolved from the King's Council to deal with these petitions.
They were known as the courts of equity because they applied the rules of equity [reflecting conscience or justice] to deal with matters not covered by common law [or to overcome its injustices].
The principal equity court was the Lord Chancellor's own court, the Court of Chancery (on wikipedia). This Court had jurisdiction in civil disputes throughout England and Wales, although it usually declined to deal with cases which the common law could deal with and also disputes involving less than £10 [or land worth less than 40 shillings p.a].
Appeals from decisions of the Court of Chancery were made to the House of Lords.
In 1875 the Court of Chancery became the Chancery Divison of the High Court of Justice.

Chancery Court records are at the National Archives they date from the late C14 and are in English.
Chancery cases were often disputes between members of the same family [over land, trusts, marriage settlements or wills]. The Court's records therefore contain a large amount of genealogical information. The surviving records are enormous, searching them is a complex operation.

The book " Ancestral Trails " by Mark Herber has a comprehensive section on the subject.

(Content last reviewed 4 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


In 1543 Wales was divided into 12 counties. In each county sessions were to be held twice yearly and were to be known as the Great Sessions of Wales. They are separate from the County Quarter Sessions which were also held in each county.

Criminal records of the Courts of Great Sessions of Wales are held at the National Library of Wales, they are written in English.

From the NLW site; "The Crime and Punishment database comprises data about crimes, criminals and punishments included in the gaol files of the Court of Great Sessions in Wales from 1730 until its abolition in 1830. The Court could try all types of crimes, from petty thefts to high treason. In practice, most of the petty crimes were heard at the Courts of Quarter Sessions, whose records are held by the Welsh county record offices, and details about these records can be searched at Archives Network Wales. The records of the Court of Great Sessions do not include cases tried in Monmouthshire since that county formed part of the Oxford Assize circuit, whose records are held by the National Archives. There are, however, a number of cases of Monmouthshire interest on this database."

See also Archives Network Wales for details of records at the NLW

The Great Sessions were the Welsh equivalent of the English Assize Courts and were arranged in four circuits as below.

NB Monmouthshire was not included in the Welsh circuits but was included in the Oxford Assize circuit, which records are at the National Archives

Chester Circuit

Sessions for Cheshire were not included in this circuit, these were tried at the Palinate Court of Chester until 1830.

Gaol Files

  • Flint 1543 to 1830 ref. WALES 4/966 to 1022
  • Denbigh 1546 to 1830 ref. WALES 4/1 to 74
  • Montgomery 1690 to 1830 ref. WALES 4/124 to 203

Rule Books, Minute Books, Order Books

  • Flint, Denbigh and
  • Montgomery 1783 to 1830 ref. WALES 14/1 to 7
  • Flint 1574 to 1806 ref. WALES 14/71 to 86

Crown Books

  • Flint and Denbigh 1564 to 1667, ref. WALES 14/68 to 70 1707 to 1756 , and NLW MS 6298D

North Wales Circuit

Gaol Files

  • Anglesey 1708 to 1830 ref. WALES 4/250 to 261
  • Merioneth 1514 to 1830 ref. WALES 4/296 to 308
  • Caernarfon 1622 to 1830 ref. WALES 4/270 to 284

Rule Books, Minute Books, Order Books

  • Anglesey, Merioneth and
  • Caernarfon 1783 to 1830 ref. WALES 14/14 to 18

Brecon Circuit

Gaol Files

  • Brecon 1558 to 1830 ref. WALES 4/320 to 398
  • Radnor 1541 to 1830 ref. WALES 4/461 to 538
  • Glamorgan 1541 to 1830 ref. WALES 4/591 to 640

Black Books

  • Brecon, Radnor
  • and Glamorgan 1726 to 1830 ref. WALES 28/31 to 36

Rule Books, Minute Books, Order Books

  • Brecon, Radnor and
  • Glamorgan 1725 to 1830 ref. WALES 14/22 to 30

Calendar Rolls of Indictments

  • Radnor 1553 to 1659 ref. WALES 7/1 to 3
  • Glamorgan 1553 to 1601 ref. WALES 7/4 to 5

Carmarthen Circuit

Gaol Files

  • Carmarthen 1542 to 1630 ref. WALES 4/715 to 766
  • Pembroke 1547 to 1830 ref. WALES 4/775 to 837
  • Cardigan 1542 to 1830 ref. WALES 4/883 to 916

Rule Books, Minute Books, Order Books

  • Carmarthen, Pembroke
  • and Cardigan 1661 to 1807 ref. WALES 14/52 to 56

Calendar Rolls of Indictments

  • Cardigan 1541 to 1602 ref. WALES 7/6 to 7
  • Pembroke 1541 to 1674 ref. WALES 7/8 to 11

In 1830 the Courts of Great sessions of Wales were abolished and jurisdiction for all of Wales was taken over by the new North and South Wales Assize Circuit.
The records of these two circuits are held at the National Archives

The North Wales Division comprised Anglesey, Carnarvonshire, Cheshire, Denbighshire, Flintshire,Merioneth and Montgomeryshire.

The South Wales Division comprised Brecon, Cardiganshire, Carmarthenshire, Glamorgan, Pembrokeshire and Radnorshire.

Other criminal records held at the National Archives include ;

  • Calendars of Prisoners [held for trial at Quarter Sessions and Assizes]
  • Convicts Licences,Captions and Transfer Papers,
  • Court of Bankruptcy Records,
  • Criminal Registers [arranged by county],
  • Debtors' Prison Records,
  • Palatinate Courts Criminal Records,
  • Prison Books and Journals,
  • Quarterly Prison Hulk Returns,
  • Prison Registers,
  • Transportation to Australia, [lists of convicts] .

There are records relating to specific prisons which may still be with the Prison Service although planned to go to the National Archives in due course.
These include Cardiff 1896, and Swansea 1845-1900.

For further reading , and explanations of the nature of the different types of records above, I recommend the book

  • " Criminal Ancestors, a Guide to Historical Criminal Records in England and Wales by David Hawkings 1992 [ ISBN 0-86299-817-4]. This contains many examples of criminal cases with full details of persons, offences and punishments.

(Content last reviewed 5 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


The area of a bishop's jurisdiction.
Before 1541/2 there were 14 English dioceses, and thereafter, until the C19, eighteen , plus 4 for Wales.

For administrative purposes a diocese might be divided into several archdeaconries many of them having much the same boundaries as the counties within the diocese.
Every diocese has a registry for its records.

In south Wales the main body of BTs for the diocese of Llandaff does not begin until 1725, whilst those for the diocese of St David's fall into three categories:

  • parishes in the archdeaconries of Carmarthen & Gower which generally have transcripts beginning in 1671;
  • parishes in the archdeaconry of Brecon which have a smattering of transcripts dating from 1685 and a main series beginning in 1700;
  • and parishes in the archdeaconry of Cardigan and St David's which have some transcripts dating from the last quarter of the C17 and then nothing for most of the C18 until the main series start [See also Bishop's Transcripts.]

The composition of the Welsh dioceses; [abbreviations used below are Chapman county codes

  • St David's = CMN, CGN, PEM, BRE, most of RAD, parts of MGY, GLA, MON and HEF.
  • Llandaff = Most of GLA and MON.
  • St Asaph = most of Flintshire and Denbighshire, with parts of Caernarfonshire, Merioneth, MGY and Shropshire.
  • Bangor = AGY, most of CAE, parts of MER and MGY, and the deanery of Dyffryn Clwyd in central DEN.

The position is confused because overtime there was considerable transfer of parishes between English and Welsh border dioceses, and between adjoining Welsh ones.
See the book Parish Registers of Wales for an explanation.

(Content last reviewed 5 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


In 1857, Lord Halsbury defined divorce as

" the dissolution of marriage with the right thereafter to marry another person while the former spouse still lives"

A divorce in England and Wales could only be secured by the passing of a private Act of Parliament until the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 (on wikipedia).
This became effective from 1858, a divorce could now be granted by the new civil Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes. [absorbed into the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Divison of the Supreme Court in 1873, becoming in 1970 the Family Division of the Supreme Court]

From 1858, a husband could obtain a divorce because of his wife's adultery.
But until 1925 a wife had not only to prove adultery but also that it had been aggravated by the husband's cruelty or other offences such as bigamy or desertion for 2 years.
There were c 150 divorces p.a by 1860, and c 800 p.a by 1914. In that latter year an Act made divorce more widely available after WWI .

Further legislation such as the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1937, which greatly extended the grounds for divorce, meant that by 1939 there were c 8,000 divorces p.a and over 20,000 p.a by 1950. The latter increase followed the need for Government to make the divorce process easier and less costly in the chaotic aftermath of the return of British servicemen from WW2 to find that many lonely wives had been fraternising in their absence with US servicemen based here.

The Divorce Reform Act of 1969 made the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage the sole grounds for divorce, the court to be satisfied that there had been either adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion for 2 years or separation for 5 years [2 where the other party consented to the action].

The 1857 Act also gave powers to Assize Courts to hear petitions and eventually a lot of divorces were dealt with locally.
From 1873 the District Courts of the Supreme Court had similar powers, as did from 1967 the County Courts for undefended cases.

There are at the National Archives indexes of divorce petitions available for searching, these relate to petitions not decrees

There is a Central Index of Decrees Absolute granted by courts in England & Wales since 1858 held at the Principal Registry of the Family Division at First Avenue House, High Holborn, London, WC1V 6NP [tel; 020 7936 6000]. Anyone can search this for a fee, either to get a copy of the Decree, to find out whether they have been divorced by a spouse, or whether a friend or relative has been divorced.

See also the National Archives Research guides for divorces post 1858, and pre 1858

(Content last reviewed 5 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


The word originally meant " forfeiture" .

It came to mean offences for which the punishment included forfeiture of land and/or goods and chattels.

The chief Common Law felonies were

  • homicide,
  • rape,
  • larceny [i.e stealing],
  • robbery [i.e theft with violence],
  • burglary and similar offences.

Other classes of crime were

  • treason [the most serious], misdemeanour, and summary offence.

Counterfeiting, once classed as treason, was later made a felony.

(Content last reviewed 5 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Originally land held on non-servile tenure either for life or in fee simple or fee tail.

It could be held either by knight service or in socage.[socage was a form of feudal tenure held for a rent].

Freeholders enjoyed security of tenure in perpetuity under the Common Law.

The expression " in fee " means "hereditarily", and "in fee male " means through male descent.

A fee simple was an estate in land which passed at death to the common law heir.

A Fee Tail was a grant of land to a person and " the heirs of his body " to tie up the land in one family.
Each successor would enjoy only a life interest in it and it would pass on to his heirs on the principle of Primogeniture

See also Land tenure

(Content last reviewed 5 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


A term which came to be applied solely to one characteristic markedly different from the law of tenure over most of the country.This peculiarity was a local survival of a pre-feudal custom by which a man's land was divided between all of his sons instead of passing to his eldest son [as it did by the later feudal law]. If he had no sons the land was divided between all of his daughters but not between sons and daughters. Gavelkind survived in Wales until abolished under Henry VIII, it was instrumental in fragmenting estates into smallholdings.

However, here is an alternative slant on gavelkind contributed by Anna Brueton (August 2011)

1. The conquest and settlement of Wales had led by the time of the Acts of Union to a multiplicity of legal systems across the Principality and the Marches, some using Welsh law, some English, and others both. This process resulted in a decline in the use of gavelkind as a means of transmitting land between generations. The adoption of the manorial system in some areas during this period adds a further complicating factor. Though some historians have attributed the small size of Welsh estates at the start of the Early Modern period to the custom of gavelkind, this seems too simplistic an explanation when the Late Medieval context of plague, revolt and civil war, as well as the decline in the use of of gavelkind, is taken into account.

2. Although by 1542 the several Acts generally referred to as the Acts of Union had in theory abolished gavelkind in Wales, there is evidence that in practice it survived in some areas, as shown by the Bromley survey (1609) of the Welsh estates of the Duchy of Lancaster, at least in respect of customary tenants
(see http://www.kidwellyhistory.co.uk/Surveys/1609/Introduction.htm ).

See also Gwely and Primogeniture

(Content last reviewed Aug 2011 - Gareth H)


In 1834 the care of the poor was transferred from the parish to Boards of Guardians - (on wikipedia) newly constituted by the merging of parishes [for Poor Law purposes] into 585 Unions.
Each Union was controlled by its own Board consisting of parish representatives elected by the major ratepayers.

The out-relief formerly given to the poor was restricted to cases of most serious need; for others, a spell in the Union's workhouse was substituted.

Workhouse inmates were segregated by age and sex; families were often separated and all contact forbidden.
This latter restriction has been put forward as a contributory factor to the civil unrest of the period, represented in south Wales by the Rebecca Riots (on wikipedia).

Some Boards arranged for the emigration of their younger paupers.

Records of these Unions are generally available at county Records Offices.

The Workhouse - on Peter Higginbotham's site

Poor Laws in England and Wales - on wikipedia

(Content last reviewed 5 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


The first Act imposing "Hearth Money" was in 1662.
Exempted hearths were mainly in those houses worth less than £1 p.a yearly value, or their occupiers were almsmen, or paid no Church or Poor rate.
The tax was 2/- on each hearth [fireplace].

From 1663 all hearths were to be included in the returns, exempted or not.
Most charitable institutions such as hospitals and almshouses, were exempt as were industrial hearths [except blacksmiths' forges and bakers' ovens].
There were several revisions to the tax rules, it was abolished in 1689.

Its relevance to family historians lies in those Hearth Tax records that have survived and are available at county Records Offices and /or the National Archives.
These show names of families occupying the listed houses at that time.

There is a Gibson guide to Hearth Tax (FFHS 1996) - which lists what extant records are held where .

Here is the National Archives' research guide to Hearth Taxes

[see also Window Tax].

(Content last reviewed 6 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Such fairs were held annually, usually in market towns.
Their purpose was to assist employers in finding employees and vice versa.
The latter were mainly domestics and ag labs.
They were hired for 1 year.
Both parties were attracted to the fairs from miles around which contributed to the mobility of families.

This is the main reason for men and families jumping quite long distances between census returns, and sometimes men acquiring local wives and settling down permanently in the new area as well.

It seems parish and county lines were no barrier to this movement.
If your ag lab ancestor has disappeared find out where the local hiring fair was held, and what its catchment area might have been, you may be lucky.

I have an ancestor who came from Bettws parish in CMN, he ended up working on a farm in Cilybebyll parish in GLA and marrying one of the farmer's daughters. It would seem likely that he was hired at the Neath fair (Fairs held on Trinity Thursday, 31st of July, and 12th of September) which was within a day's walk of Bettws along mountain tracks.

(Content last reviewed 6 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Until Tudor times this was an administrative sub-division of a county, probably so named having originally contained either a hundred families, fighting men or hides. [a hide was a measure of land as much as would support one free family, perhaps c 120 acres ].

Hundred Courts, dealing with minor offences such as trespass, continued after a fashion until 1867 when they lost most powers under the County Courts Act, finally losing all function in 1886.

Surviving records may be found in county Records Offices.

A practical example of the modern relevance of hundreds to family historians is the Dyfed FHS 1813-1837 Marriage indexes which are sold in sets comprised of hundreds, the latter made up of a variable number of parishes.

On the Genuki county pages for CGN, CMN, PEM, and GLA are lists and diagrams of which parishes are within each hundred, and the extracts from A Topographical Dictionary of Wales (S. Lewis, 1844) also show which hundred a parish was in.

See also Cantref/Commote

(Content last reviewed 6 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


The term is used in several ways.

When it describes an occupation it could apply to a man of any status who was engaged or interested in husbandry ie the cultivation of the land.

But it was also used to designate a status in which sense it usually applies to a smallholder or tenant farmer ,
who might also have to work on the land of larger owners to maintain himself ie he was below the status of a yeoman. [see also Yeoman ]

(Content last reviewed 6 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


A day labourer, or skilled manual labourer/craftsman on piece work.

A modern equivalent of a 'jobbing whatever' ?
Unlike apprentices and workers engaged on a longer term basis, most journeymen worked a distance from their homes.

The Statute of Artificers of 1563 (on wikipedia) laid down a journeyman's hours of work as being, in winter from dawn to dusk, and in summer from, at or before 5 am until between 7 and 8 pm, with not more than 2.5 hours off for breakfast, dinner and drinking.

Journeyman - on wikipedia

(Content last reviewed 6 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


The Land Tax was first regularly imposed annually in 1693.

A quota was fixed for each county and local assessors were left to allot appropriate sums to each parish, and within the parishes, to each taxpayer; and was largely confined to owners of real estate. Only a few early records survive.

In 1772 the returns were altered to include all the occupiers of land in each parish, then changed to include the owner of each building.

From 1780 duplicates had to be lodged with the Clerk of the Peace, these records are available down to 1832 after which they became less regular.

From 1798 landowners were able to "buy themselves out" from the tax, a lump sum of 15 years purchase was levied, however their names continued to be listed as such.

The tax lapsed in 1816 but was levied again from 1842, finally ending in 1949.

The records from 1780 are in county Records Offices, usually in annual bundles with parishes grouped in Hundreds.

(Content last reviewed 6 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Leasehold tenure could be for a term of years, for life, for up to 3 lives, or at the will of the landlord.

Land available for such leases was mainly either demesne land or land reclaimed from the waste; or a copyholder's holding that had reverted to the lord through the extinction of his family.

In a lease for 3 lives, not necessarily of 3 generations, the names of the 3 persons had to be recorded, and it has been suggested that this is one reason why a man would christen more than one of his sons with the same name.

In Wales, by mid C19, the usual tenancy was from year to year.

The book Myddfai: Its Land and Peoples by David James (1991) has some helpful references and examples;

  • Properties were usually let at a fixed annual payment over a set period or a rent was fixed on an annual basis.
  • Sometimes leases were for lives, an example in Myddfai is where Thomas Jones held a lease for three lives at an annual rent of £44
  • During the C18th 21 year leases were common place - the book gives 8 examples of farms with such leases starting as early as 1722
  • At an earlier date another farm was on an 11 year lease, another had a 31 year lease and then a 7 year lease.

The article THE INDUSTRIALIZATION OF A GLAMORGAN PARISH (Llangiwg); By Hugh Thomas, National Library of Wales journal Winter, 1975, Vol XIX/2 has this reference ;

"The leases by which the farms were held were characteristic of a backward rural economy. There were a few tenants-at-will, but the majority enjoyed the security of leases for three lives or ninety-nine years. Current opinion had already moved against such long leases on the grounds that they were detrimental to efficient farming and were in part responsible for the poor condition of many of the estates in this part of Wales. It was John Herbert Lloyd who introduced the shorter leases into the parish when he inherited the Cilybebyll estate, though his example was soon followed by the Ynysgedwyn estate despite the sympathy expressed by its owner for the smaller farmers in 1816"

Demesne land is those parts of the land and rights of a manor that the lord retained for himself, what might now be called the "home farm".
Waste was land of a manor not devoted to arable, meadow or wood.

Copyhold is a form of tenure for land of a lord of the manor for rent or services. So called because the tenancy rights were laid out in an entry on the court rolls of the manor; being the only evidence of its existence.
Tenure of such land could only be transferred by its surrender to the lord, and by admission by him of the new tenant.[see Manor ].
The Law of Property Act, 1922, converted all remaining copyhold land into freehold from Jan 1926.

See also Freehold

Messuage is a term used in deeds to describe a house with its surrounding land.

(Content last reviewed 7 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


With reference to census returns in particular,a lodger just got accomodation whereas a boarder got meals as well.

(Content last reviewed 7 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


For 500 years after William the Conqueror, the manor, an agricultural estate, was the unit of local government.

Its head was the lord of the manor, literally the landlord, not necessarily a titled person, who held the land from the King.
The estate was administered by the manor court, a periodic meeting of the tenantry, presided over by the lord, or his steward.
Custom governed everything, the principle was " justice shall be done by the lord's court, not by the lord".

It should be noted that manors were not always compact geographical units, a single manor was defined by its allegiance to a particular lord. The boundaries of a manor were not confined to one parish and indeed might stretch across several.

The lord of the manor granted strips of land to his tenants in return for service, which might be rent, work on the lord's land or military obligation.
The lord's own land was the demesne.

Frankpledge was the ancient right of the village community to be responsible for each other's good behaviour and when a manorial court (Court Leet - see below) brought together all the males of the manor over the age of 12 it was called a "View of Frankpledge".

Two types of manorial court were;

  • Court Baron - effectively the Lord of the Manor's personal court for dealing with tenancies and transfers of land and to enforce manorial custom.
  • Court Leet - one of public jurisdiction dealing with minor offences and routine matters such as maintenance of highways - also the "View of Frankpledge" (see above). The Court Leet appointed a Constable who had a range of responsibilites such as;- collection of taxes; maintenance of lockups & stocks; supervision of jury service; apprenticing of pauper children; and many others. The jurisdiction of a constable was called a constablewick.

In Wales, the manorial system had limited impact; it existed in Pembrokeshire, Glamorgan and Monmouthshire and adjoining counties where Anglo-Norman influences extended but was barely known in the north Wales counties of Caernarvonshire, Anglesey and Merioneth.

The principal records of the manorial estate were the Court Rolls, some of these records are deposited with county Record Offices, but the principal repository for records of Welsh estates is the National Library of Wales.

A definition of ' manorial records' would include; court rolls, surveys, maps, terriers, documents and books of every description relating to the boundaries, wastes, customs or courts of a manor.

Another name for the lord of the manor was squire

Sites with more information on researching manorial records;

(Content last reviewed 7 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


When two persons wished to marry without having the banns read out in church on 3 consecutive Sundays, they usually applied to the bishop or archdeacon for a licence.
This might have been to avoid the 3 week delay or simply to avoid the publicity of banns, they might also have been away from "home" which would have made it difficult to arrange banns in their home parish.

The application was called a Marriage Allegation and in it one of the parties, usually the groom, swore that they were able to marry each other i.e. single or widowed, of age, not related within the forbidden degrees of consanguinity (on wikipedia), and that they had resided for the required length of time in the parish where they wished to be married.

Bonds may also have been submitted, although abolished in 1823, these were sworn statements containing assurances by a couple's friends or relatives [and often the groom] that they knew of no impediment to the marriage and stating the amount of money by which they were bound [and which they might forfeit if the licence was not complied with]

The original Welsh marriage licences, affadavits and bonds are held at the National Library of Wales (where there is an online index of pre 1838 bonds) though not all have survived .
To quote from their site;

"These documents were executed in order to obtain a licence to marry without having banns called publicly in church, and were filed and kept in the office of the diocese where the licence was issued. In general, they cover the period 1661-1930.
The information varies with the type of document, marriage bonds (a legal requirement up to 1824) being of most use to the family historian. They may be particularly valuable when the approximate date of a marriage is known, but not its venue.
Also available for the diocese of St David's are registers of marriage licences, mainly for the 19th century.
It should be borne in mind that probably fewer than one in ten weddings were by licence. The licences themselves, which have not survived in any great number, may sometimes be found among parish records."

The actual licences themselves are very rare simply because they were handed to the couple concerned.

The NLW has bonds and affadavits for St Davids for the years 1661-1867.
Llandaff is covered from 1665-1941 (with gaps), St Asaph 1690-1938, Brecon 1661-1867 and Bangor 1757-1931.

There are paper and computer indexes accessible at some Record Offices although copies of actual documents can only be obtained from the NLW.

[see also 


(Content last reviewed 7 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


The oldest surviving inscriptions are on brasses and around effigies inside churches.
The majority were for peers, knights and church dignatories.
In the C16 the custom spread of burying the gentry and more prosperous merchants inside the church building and the number of memorials on the walls and floor increased accordingly.
However an interior memorial does not mean that the deceased was buried in the church, the clergy objected to this and so the actual burial was often in the church yard.

Burial ground monuments are of many kinds; wooden deadboards, vertical headstones, footstones, horizontal ledger stones and tombs of many types.

In the C17 the oldest churchyard inscriptions, except for the wealthy, were probably all engraved on wooden boards supported by wooden posts.
Stone and slate gradually came into use, local materials and craftsmen for the carving were normally used.

It was in the C18 that the inscriptions became the most fulsome, and informative, with names, dates, place of residence commonplace.

Memorial inscriptions tend to give more information than the parish register but are more prone to error because normally a stone cannot be put in place until about a year after the burial to allow the earth to settle.
Details should therefore be checked with the registers.

Sadly, many individual MIs have become illegible through weathering or vertical stones have fallen, in some cases whole sections of older cemeteries have the headstones cleared to one side - on safety grounds presumably.

I'm not sure when the tradition started but in my local cemetery in Gwauncaegurwen it seems the norm for an "old saying", for want of a better description, to be inscribed on the gravestone as well.
One of the most popular I have seen is

"Hedd Perffaith Hedd" [Peace Perfect Peace].

See also Graveyard & History Book Welsh on this site, which includes more typical 'sayings' as well as a word dictionary.

The MIs in many churchyards and cemeteries have now been transcribed, and often indexed, by Family History Societies and are available for purchase from them.

(Content last reviewed 7 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Numerically, the most important branch of non-conformity, the Methodist movement began in 1738 when John and Charles Wesley set out to revive a sense of spirituality and inner holiness in worship and persuade Anglican churchgoers to live their religion, not just attend services.

At first they preached to church congregations and religious societies, then their followers formed themselves into "societies" and met at members' houses.

The Wesleys and George Whitefield began to preach in the open air, they accepted the nickname "Methodist", and although remaining members of the established Anglican church , built preaching houses and tabernacles which became grouped into Circuits.

Methodism had no particular theological claim to non-conformity, the phrase 'evangelical Anglicanism' fitting quite well.

One feature of this denomination is the circuit, with ministers preaching in different places; another the requirement for ministers to move on to another circuit often.

In 1741 they split into two groups, Calvinist [Whitefield] and Arminian [John Wesley], both continued to be called Methodists.

Wesley's following grew greatly, by 1784 Methodist clergy were being barred from Anglican churches so they invoked the Toleration Act and became, officially, Dissenters.

After the deaths of the Wesley brothers late in the century, a succession of sub-denominations developed and the movement continued to divide throughout the early C19.

The names of the different groups include;

  • The Methodist New Connexion,
  • Primitive Methodists,
  • Bible Christians,
  • Protestant Methodists,
  • Wesleyan Methodist Association,
  • United Methodist Free Church,
  • Wesleyan Reform Union.

In Wales, the 2 main groups were;

The title "Wesleyan Methodist Church" remained in use until the Methodist Union of 1932, when the church re-united with the Primitive Methodist Church and the United Methodist Church to form the current Methodist Church of Great Britain.


In 1837 Methodists obeyed the call to deposit their registers with the General Registrar, the oldest being 1738; a proportion escaped deposit although some of those have since gone into county Record Offices.
The largest holding of registers is at the National Archives
The Methodist Archives and Research Centre in Manchester has non-deposited registers as well as those of defunct societies.
The Superintendent Ministers of Circuits still have a number of registers and some C18 membership rolls.
Each of the 31 Methodist administrative areas has an archivist.

[see also Non-conformists]

Further reading ; " My Ancestors were Methodists " by W Leary, SOG,1999.


(Content last reviewed 7 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Civil administration in England & Wales is based on the parish system.

Since medieval times an ecclesiastical parish had been that area in the charge of the clergyman at the parish church.
Parishes began to acquire secular functions after the 1597 Elizabethan Poor law (Poor Laws on wikipedia).

Until the early C19 there were c 11,000 Anglican parishes in E & W.
These parishes are often called ancient parishes to distinguish them from the many new parishes created since c 1830.

Administration of the parish was undertaken by a council known as the Vestry and by officials such as church wardens and overseers.
In the C16 & C17 many administrative functions, such as highway repairs, were transferred from manorial courts (seee Manor) to the parish which also became responsible for the care of the sick and the poor.

During the C19 responsibility for most secular matters was passed from parishes to central government, or to county or borough councils .

In the C19 the growth and change in population led to the building of many new Anglican churches and the creation of new parishes by dividing up some ancient parishes.

The ecclesiastical parish should be distinguished from a township or civil parish as it became known, which is also medieval in origin.
Specifically, the Settlement Act of 1662 (on wikipedia), allowed large parishes to be divided for poor law purposes into their constituent " townships or villages" and in parts of England, particularly in the northern counties, it was the ancient secular administrative unit, the township or vill, rather than the ancient ecclesiastical parish, which had responsibility for raising poor rates and thus became the civil parish of the 19th century.
In the hill country of the Welsh heartland the parishes were larger and like their counterparts in Northen England were divided for secular purposes into townships or hamlets which were the descendants of the medieval trefi.

To remove confusion, the civil divisions termed hamlets, townships, chapelries, liberties and tithings were all renamed parishes by the 1866 Poor Law Amendment Act.

From 1871, ecclesiastical parishes that had not been subdivided into townships or chapelries became civil parishes for civil administration purposes.

A tithing was another sub-division of the parish, usually for Poor Law purposes, originally one tenth of a Hundred in area

The modern day civil parish was confirmed in 1889 as the lowest level of local secular government and is largely based on the original ecclesiastical parish boundaries.

That's how it evolved but as far as the "here and now" is concerned, I'll illustrate the modern day structure by reference to where I used to live in Devon, England.
I lived in a village which is in the parish of Buckland Monachorum, which is in the borough council of West Devon which is in the county of Devon. Apart from the village concept each of the others has an elected council with administrative functions ranging from the purely local to the county level. The borough council is responsible for actual tax raising, called council tax and which is based on property values.

As far as practical FH research goes it is mainly the historic ecclesiastical parish that is relevant.

The book Parish Registers of Wales (NLW) lists the separate parishes in each county and shows how and when the more modern ones came about.
And where the extant parish records are held.

See also Parish boundaries on this site

See also Townships in Wales, what they are on this site

(Content last reviewed 7 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Parish registers were formally started in 1538, there was no prior standard system countrywide for recording baptisms although some monasteries did keep records.
Initially on loose sheets, only about 800 registers still exist with entries from as early as 1538, they were supposed to be written up weekly.

The records were kept in the Parish Chest, which had 2 keys, one for the priest and one for the churchwarden.
Bound parchment books for recording baptisms, marriages and burials were commenced in 1598, by Act of Parliament; with prior entries to be inserted , so these can start from 1538, but mostly from 1558.
The records were to be made by the church incumbent .
In some early registers, baptisms, marriages and burials are all entered on the same pages, in chronological order.
Usually the three were kept in the same book but in separate parts.
In the C16 & C17 entries are often in Latin.

A duplicate set of entries had to be sent to the bishop each year [ see Bishop's Transcripts ].

During the Interregnum (on wikipedia) [ 1649-1660] the responsibility for registration was transferred to an elected Parish Register[Registrar], a fee of one shilling discouraged many from bothering to register at all.

In 1660, along with the monarchy, the old system of free church registration was restored but not enforced with the result that many events, especially marriages, went unrecorded.
However, many children unbaptised during the Interregnum were baptised late which is a point to remember.

Between 1694 and 1705 a tax was again imposed on registration resulting in non registration amongst the poor, or private baptisms in their homes.

In 1753 the Hardwicke Act (on wikipedia) meant couples now had to marry in a parish where one of them lived [see also Banns].
The marriage now had to be recorded in a separate book specially designed for this purpose, with spaces for signatures of bride, groom and witnesses.
Also the marriage could now only take place in licensed buildings which were always churches or chapels belonging to the Church of England.
Only the marriages of Jews and Quakers were exempt.
Roman Catholics and Nonconformists still had to register in an Anglican parish for the marriage to be legal.
Between 1783 and 1794 a stamp duty was imposed , yes, poorer families again failed to always register.

Rose's 1812 Act standardised Church of England registers from 1 Jan 1813, registers now became bound volumes of printed forms.
Baptisms showed the name of the child and both its parents, the father's occupation and where they lived.
Marriages showed the name and parish for each partner and also the names of witnesses.
Burial records now gave the age and residence of the deceased.

Civil Registration began on 1 July 1837, banns and marriage licences were no longer obligatory.
Marriages could again take place in Roman Catholic and Nonconformist places of worship but a registrar had to be present, at least until 1898.
In 1874 fines began for non registration of births.
In 1979 all parish registers had to be deposited with the local Records Office unless it could be proved that the parish itself had adequate storage facilities in which the registers could be preserved.

The book "Parish Registers of Wales" (2000) by the NLW whilst now dated is an invaluable guide to where many extant parish registers are now housed, as are the parish pages of Genuki.

Be aware that ecclesiastical parish boundaries are not necessarily the same as on census returns.

Many parish registers have been indexed/published by Family History Societies.

FreeReg has indexed many Welsh parish registes although by no means complete

Find my past is in the process of transcribing/indexing all Welsh prs.

See also this article for an in depth history of PRs;


(Content last reviewed 7 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Is a surname derived from a father or ancestor.

The related subjects of patronymics and the origins of Welsh surnames can not be covered exhaustively here but some introductory explanations are offered.

Surnames in England were derived from personal names, occupations, locations and topographical features.
They would have settled between the C12 and C14.

But a completely different picture was seen in Wales where the ancient naming system continued ,where children were identified in relation to their father eg Dafydd ap Rhys.
To confuse matters further the latter format might well have ended up as the surname of Price[Prys].
A daughter would also be known by her father's name e.g Ann verch Rhys, and women often retained their maiden name after marriage

Present day Welsh surnames do not represent truly Welsh forenames but the fashions in naming children a generation before a surname was taken.
In Wales a handful of biblical and saints' names have predominated since medieval times.
Clergymen did not generally consider the Welsh versions of these as acceptable officially , or had difficulty getting their English tongues around them.
So Dafydd became David, which became the surname David initially, but usually Davies eventually.
Also, the late adoption of surnames in Wales, coupled with the later popularity of some given names, led to given names such as Francis and James becoming Welsh surnames.

The first to adopt fixed surnames in Wales were the wealthier classes, the practice filtering through society at different levels from Tudor times.

The ap system survived in a shorthand form for some time, a man known once as Dafydd ab Ifan might have become David Evan. his son may have been known as Thomas David and his grandson as Evan Thomas.
The latter's son may have become David Evan or David Thomas, if the latter then a permanent surname could be said to have settled in a family.

The whole process evolved at a different pace throughout different communities in Wales, generally speaking, earlier in the south and south east, later in the upland areas, earlier amongst the gentry, later among the labouring people.
Also depending on the degree of anglicisation and urbanisation

The timescale of the adoption of a fixed surname may vary from south Pembrokeshire, with a similar timescale to England , to mid C19 in parts of Caernarfonshire.

Here is a real practical example of patronymics at work pre1700 in the CMN parish of Myddfai (From Myddfai and Its Peoples by David B James, 1991).
Note that a fixed surname was apparently adopted in this particular estate owning family sometime mid C17th.

"There is an extant genealogy for the Cilgwyn estate which shows the 7 antecedents of Benjamin Lewis who died in 1699. Commencing with the oldest they are; Meredith ap David; Morgan ap Meredith; Evan ap Morgan; Phillip ap Evan; David ap Phillip; Lewis David Phillip; and David Lewis the father of Benjamin Lewis. "

Here is a rather good essay on patronymics and his own family name by Thomas Roderick of the Glamorgan Mailing List;

"In my judgment, this was one of the most important changes in Welsh cultural life (and therefore genealogical research). I wish we had data, perhaps we could accumulate it, on specific areas within Wales and what is specifically known for these name changes.

Larger and more commercially interactive localities changed earlier than isolated rural areas and that could be the main difference between South and North Wales. But in addition to localities, it depended on how influenced they were by the English and possibly by property inheritance systems. And further there must have been variability between families based simply on their preference.

When would one family start to baptize their children using their father's patronym as a second and stable surname? The mother had her own thoughts as did the father, and I suspect a change to a surname was rejected as long as possible. If a grandparent lived with the family, there would be further resistance from him/her to any such significant social change. Familial variability in changing must have appreciable.

But local communal customs must have been the greatest influencing factor and difficult to ignore. The vicar must have played a major influential role, depending on his inclination. At the time of baptism he might influence a young couple to "join the masses" by assuming a surname to put in the parish register. Conversely, the change might wait another generation if he was culturally conservative. And with an illiterate couple, I suspect the vicar often made or tried to make the decision as a "fait accompli" because he had the authority to enter the baptismal name and what he thought should be the parents' names into the parish register.

I understand these things from two perspectives in my family.

(1) the change from a patronymic system to a stable surname system, and

(2) the alteration of a Welsh patronymic ("Rhydderch") to a name more palatable to the English ear ("Roderick").

The influences on both depending on the community and the vicar were very similar. I was struck by the early influence of the vicars on the actual names they put in the parish registers. My ancestor "Rhydderch Evan" (born ca 1700), in one parish was called as such, but in another parish at the same time, he was called "Roderick John" ('John' the English equivalent of the Welsh 'Evan', from 'Ieuen'). I have no doubt that Rhydderch Evan went home to his wife and children and was called 'Rhydderch Evan' at home and by his neighbors. The latter vicar decided to help that poor Welshman and move him along toward good tidy progressive English transliterations, "Roderick John". This happened in Llantrisant and Pentyrch Glamorganshire in the early 1700s. Our family personally kept the Welsh names and patronym for several more years.

So what you see in the parish register may or may not have been the names that the family actually used themselves or were known by in their community. And what you see in one parish register may not be the same names of what appears for that same family in another parish register. The written record was only a scribe's rendition and may or may not have been a close approximation to what the subject actually was known by or called himself. The written and spoken name was variable, mutable, and evolving, although I suspect the written name was much more variable than the locally spoken community name. And a particular person or family might well change their system of naming in the middle of their lives, so what you see at the baptism may not be the name that the person decides to die with, or even what his family decides to put on his tombstone.

In my family's case the eventual change from 'Rhydderch' to 'Roderick' (the same change was made in my estimate by 90% of all Rhydderch families) changed at nearly the same time as was the change from the patronymic system to the surname system, which is not surprising. Rhydderch Evan, perhaps born in or around Llantrisant had a son in the patronymic system named Evan Rhytherch or Roderick born ca. 1725. But all 5 of Evan Roderick's sons and their descendants were baptized as and used 'Roderick' as a stable surname, all woodcutters in and around Llantrisant, all baptized around 1750 and thereafter. It does not surprise me that it took about 25 years or one generation for this family to change to another name and to another naming system.

There were other variables. Another Roderick family we know moved back and forth between generations in assuming a stable surname or patronym. In other families the older sons were named under the old patronymic system while the younger sons were named under the new emerging surname system. Furthermore, it may not have been as much a person's own decision what he wished to be called, but what the community at large called him. And if he/she was illiterate as the majority of our 18th century Welsh ancestors were, he might not even know to what name he was ascribing his "X".

It's a great lesson for genealogists studying this period that the written name for a single person could have been enormously variable over his or her lifetime both because of the change to surnames and the pressure to change from Welsh to more English sounding names. Most important, the written name was a scribe, clerk, or vicar's rendition, not necessarily what the family customarily used."

Thomas Roderick
Bar Harbor, Maine USA
September 2008

(Content last reviewed 7 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


In Wales, Calvinistic Methodism was prevalent, called the Presbyterian Church of Wales, Howell Harris was the founder.

English nonconformity began as a Puritan movement within the Church of England, to bring ritual and organisation nearer to Lutheran and Calvinistic forms by abolishing bishops, archdeacons, deans and chancellors.

The Presbyterians grew in influence and formed the majority in Charles I's early parliaments dominating the Parliamentary side in the Civil War.
Presbyterianism became the established church of the country under the Commonwealth but was overthrown at the Restoration of the monarchy when many Anglican ministers were ejected from their livings and subsequently formed the backbone of nonconformist congregations.
After a generation of persecution Presbyterians in common with other dissenters accepted toleration and exclusion from power.

Presbyterian clergy who refused to conform under the Act of Uniformity were ejected from their livings. In 1665 the Five Mile Act forbad dissenting clergy from coming within five miles of corporate towns which was where dissent was strongest. In 1689 the Toleration Act gave rise to the building of over one thousand meeting houses over the next 20 years and as still forbidden to have any central or regional links they were Independent in organisation.This brought the Presbyterians and Independents closer together and in 1691 in London they combined under the name of the United Brethren, although this union collapsed in 1694.

In 1695 Church of England incumbents were ordered to register the births, not baptisms, of dissenters in their parish, so the word "born" in a parish register may give a clue to dissenting parents. The baptism of dissenters' children at home became common place and lasted for 100 years.

In 1702 the Presbyterians, Independents and Baptists united under a combined banner of The Three Denominations and the practice of keeping registers became more general though far from universal.
In 1719 The Three Denominations split up, Presbyterians fell under the influence of Unitarianism and by the end of the C18 most groups of Presbyterians were actually Unitarians.

Presbyterianism in Scotland was the established religion, and was not non-conformist there.
The Presbyterian churches built in England in the C19 mostly catered for people who had immigrated from Scotland and Ireland.

In 1742/3 a body of Protestant Dissenting Deputies set up a general Register of Births for the children of dissenters all over the country, this became known as Dr Williams's Library.
Before 1754 fewer marriages were performed in Presbyterian meeting houses than in other sects, their religious ceremony was not recognised in law but the contracting of the two parties before witnesses was.
This practice was brought to an end with the Hardwicke Act.

In 1768 the general register at Dr Williams's Library began to record baptisms as well as births.

In 1837 the registers of all dissenting sects were called in to the GRO, some slipped through the net.

The National Archives has the great majority of pre 1837 registers.

Presbyterian registers sometimes give more information, eg wives or mother's maiden names or even parents names.

[see also Non-conformists]

Further reading;

  • My Ancestors were English Presbyterians/ Unitarians. A Ruston, SOG 1993
  • Biographical Dictionary of Ministers and Preachers of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Body or Presbyterians of Wales from the Start of the Denomination to the Close of the year 1850. By the Rev Joseph Evans, Denbigh (1907). This can be read on the Internet Archive site


(Content last reviewed 8 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


The right, or custom, whereby an estate in land or a title of dignity, descends to a person by virtue of his being the eldest male.

In the past , when a person died intestate [not having made a will], his personal property, after deduction of the widow's portion, was, under Common Law, divided equally between all of his children but all his real estate [landed property] went to his eldest son. [See also Gavelkind and Gwely].

Just to confuse the reader, here is this interesting extract from LIFE IN A WELSH COUNTRYSIDE: A Social Study of Llanfihangel yng Ngwynfa by Alwyn D. Rees, Director of Extra-Mural Studies, University College of Wales, Aberystwyth published in 1975:

"The roots of many of the customs described in this chapter lie in the social system of medieval Wales. Unlike the English villager, who often handed on his holding to his successor during his own life-time with the proviso that he and his wife should be cared for in their old age, the Welsh tribesman retained control of his share of the land of the kindred until his death. Sons were entitled, as they are today, to equal shares of the moveable property when they left the family hearth, and after their father's day they inherited equal shares of the land itself. But the paternal homestead and the remaining moveable wealth were reserved for the youngest son. Daughters were normally excluded from succession to land, but they were entitled to a share of the moveable property."

Primogeniture - on wikipedia

(Content last reviewed 8 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Quoting from the excellent book " Ancestral Trails" by Mark Herber [ISBN 0-7509-1418-1] published 1997 by Sutton Publishing in association with the SOG

Prohibited Degrees of marriage.

The marriage of first cousins was not unusual and has been legal since the C16.

However marriages between people who were related in some other ways [known as the prohibited degrees] were forbidden by acts of Parliament and ecclesiastical law.

The present position is set out in the Marriage Act 1949 [as amended in 1986], but for most of the period you will be researching the relevant rules [reached in about 1560 and confirmed by church laws, known as Canons, in 1564] were listed in the Common Book of Prayer of 1662.

The prohibitions prevented someone marrying his or her;

  • a] brother or sister [ or their spouse]
  • b] parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, child or grandchild[ or their spouse]
  • c] niece or nephew[ or their spouse]
  • d] spouse's child, grandchild,parent, aunt, uncle or grandparent.

Statutes of 1907 and 1921 made an exception to the prohibition at a] above, allowing people to marry the spouse of their brother or sister, if that brother or sister had died.

Some further exceptions were made in 1931,1949 and 1986 so that, for example, a man was allowed to marry his deceased wife's niece, aunt, or widowed mother.

Prohibited Degrees of Kinship - on wikipedia

(Content last reviewed 8 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Unco-ordinated movements within the Church of England, beginning in the reign of Henry VIII and aiming to purify some aspects of its worship.
Although all Puritans were against Catholic rites and all believed in the bible as their sole authority, they interpreted it in many different ways.
Many groups held meetings of their own to expound the scriptures, known as conventicles.

In the period 1558 to 1642 most Puritans remained within the Church of England and tried to create change from within.
A small number chose to go to Holland, a much greater number followed the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620 and settled in New England, North America.

From 1643 people who disagreed with the priest could withdraw from the Anglican church.

During the Commonwealth [or Interregnum] period which spanned 1649 to 1660, the power of the Church of England was destroyed and the Puritans came largely into their own, to such an extent that many Anglicans departed for Virginia, North America.

It was from the Puritan movement that the first dissenting sects developed after being forced outside the Anglican Church in the 1660 to 1688 period when they were persecuted for their beliefs.

[seeNon-conformists ]

See Puritan on wikipedia

(Content last reviewed 8 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


In 1652 George Fox, standing on high Pendle Hill in England, had a vision which was the beginning of the Religious Society of Friends.
Its members are commonly called Quakers.

A magistrate first used this name in Derby in 1650, when Fox was on trial for his beliefs.
His followers trembled during religious excitement, and Fox bade the judge to "tremble at the word of the Lord."

George Fox believed, as the Puritans did, that the formal practices of the Church of England violated the spirit of Christianity.
He taught that people can worship God directly without help from clergy.
His followers refused to attend the services of the Church of England or to pay tithes for its support.
They refused to take oaths on the ground that an oath recognizes a double standard of truth.
They were frugal and plain in dress and speech.
They rejected church buildings [steeplehouses].

The authorities persecuted them with fines, confiscation of property, and imprisonment.
Nevertheless the sect flourished.

In 1689 the Toleration Act ended the persecution.

Meanwhile, Quakers could settle freely in America on a large grant of land given to the Quaker William Penn in 1681.
The Hicksites (see wikipedia) separated from the orthodox Quakers in 1827, and there were other divisions.

Quakers still reflect the teachings of Fox.
They do not sanction taking part in war because they feel that war causes spiritual damage through hatred.
Most Quakers therefore refuse to give military service, but individuals follow their own convictions.

The Friends (Quakers) have no ritual, sacraments, or ordained clergy.
They appoint elders and overseers to serve at each meeting.
Men and women who have received a "gift" are called recorded ministers.
The meeting for worship is held "on the basis of silence."
Members speak in prayer or testimony as the "Inward Light" moves them.
After an hour the meeting ends with the members shaking hands.
Congregations generally hold a meeting for business every month with recorded minutes.

In the 19th century Quakers in the United States founded a number of colleges and universities with an emphasis on science.
Because Friends were trusted and extended credit, they became active in banking and insurance.
Quakers are also active in welfare work and social reform.
The American Friends Service Committee, founded during World War I, organizes relief and service projects not only in the United States but throughout the world.

Although many Quaker records have not survived, the survival rate for their records is much better than for Independents, Baptists and Presbyterians.
Formal record keeping commenced in 1669.
The Quaker registers of births [not baptisms], marriages and deaths/burials were handed over to the National Archives (PRO that was ) with other nonconformist registers [RG6].

A selection of Quaker related extracts from A History of Carmarthenshire. Lloyd, Sir John E., (Ed.). 2 vols., Cardiff, London Carmarthenshire Society (1935, 1939).

"The heavy hand of the Restoration bore down more heavily upon the Quaker than the orthodox Puritan. For two years he even had a special Conventicle Act all to himself [ 14 Chas II,c 1].
For refusing a demand of 14s for tithes in 1660, John Williams of Llandeilo had a horse worth £4 taken from him[ two years later, fate was kinder to him when another horse was forfeited for a demand of 20s]."

"The religious census of 1676 was commissioned by Archbishop Sheldon who inter alia wanted to know how many dissenters and "Popish recusants" there were in each parish in his province.However the accuracy of the figures produced was questionable on several fronts, for instance, the clerics put down a zero against Llandeilo when authentic records testify to a respectable Quaker colony in the parish long before 1676, they had apparently never heard of the smith's house in Llandeilo parish."

"The reception given to Fox at Carmarthen (1657) was significant of the attitude of the whole county; there was none of the ranting enthusiasm of Radnor, no quasi-official welcome as in South Pembroke..................................... (but) these dynamic qualities of Fox never left a land quite unmoved..........Quaker converts surged up along the Llanddewi--- Llandysilio border. Even Stephen Hughes, when on a visit to his friend David Jones at Llandyslio early in 1659, was tempted to beat and strike a Quaker who had crossed over from Pembrokeshire; in a book he published about this time, he alludes in the preface to the 'havoc wrought on the true faith by Ranters and Quakers'."

"The storm and stress was so severe that a few Quakers from Carmarthenshire joined with those from other counties in emigrating to North America. The ink was hardly dry on the churchwardens' report of 1684, that Francis Howell of Llandyslio was a schismatic Quaker, before he and his wife, Margaret Mortimer, decided to leave their native land. No doubt, the decision was helped forward by the distress laid upon him in this year for the non-payment of tithe amounting to £1.19s.4d. At least a dozen others, with wife and family, emigrated before 1715."

Further reading;

  • My Ancestors were Quakers; How can I find out more about them?. E H Milligan/M J Thomas. SOG 1999
  • A History of Quakers in Pembrokeshire. By Stephen Griffith (on behalf of Friends from Milford Haven Preparative Meeting) 2nd impression 1995.


[ See also Non-conformists]

(Content last reviewed 8 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


The Court of Quarter Sessions was an assembly of Justices of the Peace or Magistrates ( see wikipedia) in any county, riding or county town, for the joint purposes of judging suits and administering the affairs of the area.

A statute of 1388 laid down that "Justices shall keep their sessions in every quarter of the year at least".
They were held at Easter, Trinity [midsummer], Michaelmas and Epiphany [ January], and were presided over by the sheriff or his deputy.
A leading justice was appointed and called the Keeper of the Rolls.

In the C18 several counties were sub-divided into two or more divisions for administrative purposes, each of which held its sessions.

To illustrate, from A Topographical Dictionary of Wales (S. Lewis, 1844).

"This county [Carmarthenshire] is in the South Wales circuit: the assizes, and the Epiphany, Easter, and Michaelmas quarter sessions are held at Carmarthen, and the Midsummer quarter sessions at Llandilo-Vawr: the county gaol and county house of correction are at Carmarthen: there are thirty-five acting magistrates for the county. "

The administrative control of the towns was taken away by the Municipal Corporation Act of 1835 and in 1888 the Local Government Act transferred administrative control of the counties to county councils, much as seen in the present day.

The Records of the Court are made up of Session Rolls [files[, Indictment Books, Minute Books and Order Books.

Some of these records are at the National Archives, others are held by the county Record Offices, for example at Carmarthen Archives;

Carmarthenshire Quarter Sessions

  • Order/minutebooks, 1748-1752; 1794-1813; 1820-1971
    Case files and papers, 1833-1971
    Judges' note books, jury books, justices roll, registers of convictions and appeal books, 19th and 20th centuries .

The FFHS has published a booklet " Quarter Sessions Records for Family Historians" by J Gibson. which gives details of each county's holdings.

See also Courts of Great Sessions

(Content last reviewed 10 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


The 1836 civil registration legislation generally used the existing Poor Law union boundaries for its administration purposes.

A Superintendent Registrar for births, marriages & deaths was appointed in each one.

The Poor Law unions already overlapped some ancient county boundaries, which confusion was therefore continued into the sphere of civil registration.

Registration Districts (RDs) were divided into Registration sub-districts made up of combined parishes etc with a resident registrar.

For example, see the breakdown of Carmarthenshire RDs on this Genuki site

(Content last reviewed 10 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


In the Middle Ages , documents were dated by the year of the monarch's reign.

Thus a document for the third year of the reign of King Henry VI would be shown as such [and in modern calenders] as 3 Henry VI .

In later records the anno domini year either replaced the regnal year or was given as well.

After the Restoration (on wikipedia) of the monarchy in 1660, all documents used by genealogists will bear the AD date, even though regnal years continue to appear, even [in the case of Acts of Parliament] into the present century.

See the Medieval English calendar feature on Medieval Genealogy org

(Content last reviewed 10 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Degrees of relationship for purposes of inheritance follow a biological path, and advance by one with each person in that path , as follows;

  • one degree : parent and child
  • two degrees : siblings [ie via the parent]; grandparents and grandchild
  • three degrees : uncle or aunt, and nephew, or niece; great-grandparent and great-grandchild
  • four degrees : first cousins; great-great-grandparent and great-great-grandchild

Degree of cousinship

First cousins are the children of siblings; second cousins are the children of first cousins; and so on.

Cousins are once or more removed when they are not both of the same generation.

The removal number indicates by how many generations they differ.
For example: my son's child and my daughter's grandchild are first cousins once removed, although logically, one might also say they were second cousins once removed.
In practice the relationship is always measured from the closer cousinship.

(Content last reviewed 11 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


From 1559, the history of English Catholics became a subject separate from that of their compatriots, as a result of the Act of Supremacy (on wikipedia) and The Acts of Uniformity (on wikipedia) . The latter made non-attendance at services of the Church of England a fineable offence, called recusancy (on wikipedia).

In 1569 many Catholic nobles took part in the " Rising of the North" (on wikipedia) in favour of Mary Queen of Scots, which led to the persecution of their co-religionists. In 1581 fines were increased substantially and the offence of attending a Catholic Mass risked inprisonment. Three years later it became high treason for a layman to receive the ministrations of Catholic priests. The missionary priests were concealed by wealthy co-religionists in hiding holes in their country houses.

Although no registers were kept, Catholics were baptised and even married by their missionary priests but usually went through a Church of England marriage too, to avoid a fine, to obtain legal registration and to avoid any doubt about the legitimacy of their children. Burials were usually only possible in parish churches.

Catholicism survived mainly in the North. At the end of the C17 so many Catholics were not having their children baptised by the parish priest that they were obliged by law to inform him of the births of their children, or fined. Anti Catholic feelings grew sharper as the danger of a Catholic heir to the throne became imminent. Papists were forbidden to buy or inherit land.

In 1701 , the Act of Settlement (on wikipedia) barred Catholics from the throne of England. At the accession of George I, an Act was passed compelling all persons over age 18 to take an Oath of Allegiance, in the wording of which they renounced the Catholic Church. Lists exist of people of property who refused to take this oath. Papists were compelled to register the value of their lands with the Clerk of the Peace.Some papists forfeited their land, all were liable to special taxes.

From 1754 only marriages in the C of E churches were legal. In 1778 a Papists Act was passed (on wikipedia) " to relieve upon conditions and under restrictions, persons professing the Popish religion". It is from now that a number of Catholic registers begin. The Catholic Relief Act of 1791 (on wikipedia) enabled Catholics to worship at their own registered churches under registered priests, and many churches were built. Several thousand priests fled from the French Revolution to England and gathered congregations here. In 1829 the Roman Catholic Relief Act (on wikipedia) enabled Catholics to vote, sit in Parliament and hold property unconditionally.

In 1850 the law permitted the creation of a Roman Catholic hierarchy in Britain.
Immigration from Ireland as a result of famine increased the number of Catholics here.

In 1837 the Catholic Church, like the nonconformist churches was asked to deposit registers of bapts and burials with the Registrar General, now at the National Archives (call number RG4/4666-4673).

Related web sites ;

(Content last reviewed 2 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


A legal right to poor relief, arising out of a settled place of abode.

By the Poor Law Act of 1601 (on wikipedia) a person was recognised as being legally a settled inhabitant of a parish after a month's abode.

Parish vestries soon began to use this principle to operate an unofficial system of refusing relief to paupers who had settlement elsewhere.

The Settlement Act of 1662 (on wikipedia) laid the basis of the law of settlement for the next two centuries.

Anyone entering a township and occupying a tenement worth less than £10 per annum might, within the next 40 days, be removed by the parochial Overseers of the Poor, acting on an order from two Justices of the Peace who had examined him on oath.
He would then be escorted by the constable, or by a series of constables along the route, back to the place where he was considered to be legally settled, unless he could give security for indemnity against becoming chargeable to the parish.
If he managed to stay there for the 40 days he obtained settlement at his new abode.

In a family, a child's place of settlement was the same as his father's until he or she was apprenticed, which could happen at the age of seven.
Then his place of apprenticeship would become his parish of settlement .
Unmarried persons, not apprenticed, could obtain a new settlement after service in a parish for one year.
At marriage, a woman took the same settlement as her husband.
Illegitimate children were granted settlement where they were born.
This led Overseers to try to get rid of women pregnant with bastards.
If a child was born whilst the mother was actually under an order of removal then it was given the same settlement as hers.

From 1691, the forty days were made to begin from the publication of the notice of removal in church.
It is from this year that records of removal begin.

In 1697, an Act authorised Overseers to issue Settlement Certificates to paupers of their parish.
The document eased the pauper's temporary acceptance into another parish [eg for helping with the harvest] since it enabled the parish authorities there to send him back where he had come from if he even looked like becoming chargeable to them.

In 1795 removal by the Overseers was forbidden unless the pauper became actually chargeable to the parish which did away with much of the injustice of the law.
Though the Settlement Act was repealed in 1834, the principle of settlement remained substantially in force until 1876.

The main documents relating to settlement are;

  • Indemnity Certificate of Settlement;
  • The Examination;
  • Removal Order;
  • Records of Appeals at Quarter Sessions;
  • Vestry minutes.

Most of these are to be found in county ROs but some of the parochial records may still be held at the parish churches.

The online records of Earls Colne parish, Essex have a selection of

Removal order entries which will help to demonstrate their use, here is one such example from that site

"Removal Orders 1678; to the constables of Earls Colne and to either of them whereas complaint hath been made unto me by the overseers of the poor of your said parish that Rachel Bounds is come into your said parish within forty days last past and that she does endeavour to settle herself there in a tenement under the yearly rent of 10li and that she is like to be a charges to the parish where she shall reside these are therefore to require you to give present notice unto the said Rachel Bounds to remove herself out of your said parish to the parish where she was last legally settled or else give sufficient security for the discharge of your said parish and if she shall refuse so to do then you are hereby required to apprehend the said Rachel and bring her before me or some other of his majesties justices of the peace for this county that she may be removed according to law given under my hand and seal this1.5.1678 Jo Eldred "

(Content last reviewed 11 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Tithe, or a tenth part of anything, but especially that of the profits and stock of parishioners, was due, under Canon Law, to their incumbent (Church of England) for his support.

The tithe system was first recorded in England in AD 747.

Throughout the Middle Ages, every parishioner of a tithable parish was expected to contribute one tenth of his crop, animal produce and other trade products, to the rector of the parish.
Normally the rector was the parish priest, he received the tithes directly and stored them in his tithe barn.

An Act of 1391 obliged monastic rectors to devote part of their tithes to the poor of the parish.

Tithes were of two kinds, Great and Small.

The Great Tithes were those of corn, hay and wool, all others were Small.
The usual custom was for the monastic rector to pass the Small Tithes to the vicar.

At the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538 (on wikipedia) the rectorship of many parishes passed to the new lay owners of the former monastery lands.

In the C17th the numerous nonconformist sects resented paying tithes to the Church of England clergy.

There was a gradual commutation of tithes from payments in kind to cash payments.

The Tithes Commutation Act of 1836 (on wikipedia) enabled commutation to be made more easily by commissioners in negotiation with the inhabitants of each parish on the basis of a land valuation.
Tithe Awards are incorporated in schedules arranged alphabetically under parish landowners and show the occupiers, the acreage of each parcel of land, the annual amount of tithe payable, and a numerical reference to an accompanying large scale map.
The maps show houses, boundaries, acreages, land-use and field names.
These maps and schedules can be very useful, especially pre the 1841 census, in determining whether ones ancestors occupied property, and whether as landlord or tenant.

Tithe Awards were drawn up in three copies, the one for the commissioners is now at The National Archives (TNA) , the one for the bishop is either at the diocesan registry or the county RO (but the Welsh ones are at the NLW), the one for the incumbent may still be in the parish chest or the county RO.

There may be pre 1836 tithe records for some parishes in county ROs.

See Archives Wales for extant tithe records at county ROs

The People's Collection Wales has a selection of documents regarding tithes matters in Wales

On Genuki is an interersting example of tithes in practice - at Newton Church in Glamorgan where in 1846 rent charges were introduced instead if tithes.

The National Archives have a research guide on tithes

(Content last reviewed 11 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Not to believe in the Trinity (on wikipedia) was an offence which carried the death penalty in the C16 and C17 - Unitarians do not believe in it..

At the beginning of the C18, the Socinian [C16 doctrine] (see wikipedia) belief in the divinity of God the Father, and in the humanity of Christ, began to permeate Presbyterian and Congregational assemblies.

An attempt in 1719 to make the belief in the Trinity [Father, Son & Holy Spirit] the official Presbyterian doctrine failed and congregations all over the country became divided on the issue.
In some, traditional Presbyterian doctrines prevailed and members holding Unitarian views had to set up new chapels; in other places, it was a Unitarian majority that retained the chapel.

Much the same divisions occurred in Congregational chapels.

Unitarians circumvented the law by calling their groups, societies, it wasn't until the Trinity Act of 1813 (on wikipedia) that it became legal for a congregation to call itself Unitarian.

When Nonconformist registers were deposited in 1837 at the GRO [then PRO & now National Archives] most of the Unitarian records dating from 1762 were classed as Presbyterian.

[see also Non-conformists ].

Further reading; My Ancestors were English Presbyterians / Unitarians. A Ruston, SOG 1993

Unitarians in Wales

(Content last reviewed 11 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


The governing body of a parish.

The name was derived from the room in the church building in which its meetings were held.

The assembly consisted of the incumbent, as chairman, the churchwardens and respected householders of the parish who were either co-opted by existing members [close or select vestries] or elected by the parishioners [open vestries] according to the custom of the parish.

During the C16/C17 the meeting gradually took over the functions of the Manor court as the basic unit of local government.
The office of churchwarden was often filled by the occupants of certain properties in turn [house-row].
The vestry appointed the Constable, and the Overseers of the Poor, and the Surveyor of the Highways, subject to the approval of the Justices of the Peace.

Minutes were kept of all meetings and the books containing these [where they survive] may be either still with the incumbent or deposited at the county RO.
They tell the history of the parish, the background of our ancestors' lives, and mention the names of many of the parishioners.
They are supplemented by the account books of the Wardens, Overseers, Surveyor and Constable.

The Local Govt Act of 1894 transferred the civil functions of the parish to parish councils.

The online records of Earls Colne parish, Essex have a selection of Overseers Accounts entries

Vestry - on wikipedia

The vestry book of the parish of Lampeter for the period 1777-1803.  National Library of Wales/digital gallery/archives

(Content last reviewed 2 Sept 2021 - Gareth H)


A vicar is a parish incumbent, who is the holder of the benefice or church living.
In the past he differed from the rector in that he did not receive the Great Tithes which went to the rector, who may have been a monastery or an ecclesiastic or even a layman, who then paid the vicar a salary. Since the commutation of tithes the difference between a vicar and rector has been purely historical.

The name priest is normally used to describe a Roman Catholic clergyman but in the Anglican church can mean an ordained minister who is above the rank of deacon but below that of Bishop.

The expression parson is sometimes used for anyone in holy orders but only truly accurate when describing an incumbent of a parish.

A chaplain is a priest without benefice who in modern times ministers to public bodies such as hospitals, the armed forces or prisons.

In the Anglican church a deacon was a clerk in holy orders, not yet ordained, who assisted an incumbent.
In the Nonconformist Welsh denominations a deacon is an elected official of the church.

A curate is a clergyman who is either a temporary appointment to a parish, known as a Curate in Charge, or an assistant to the incumbent.
A perpetual curate received no tithe income and was supported by the diocese.
The adjective perpetual underlined the fact that he had the same security of tenure as vicars & rectors.
An 1868 Act allowed perpetual curates to style themselves as vicars.

A canon is a priest who is a member of a cathedral chapter but may still be a parish priest.

A Rural Dean is a clergyman who has been appointed by his Bishop to run a deanery, a small group of parishes.

A dean presides over the chapter of a cathedral or collegiate church

An archdeacon is a senior clergyman with authority delegated from his bishop.

A bishop has jurisdiction over a diocese, the four ancient dioceses in Wales are Bangor, Llandaff, St David's and St Asaph.

An archbishop is responsible for a province of the Church of England, either one of two diocesan areas; Canterbury covers those south of the river Trent, York those north of that river.

The Archbishopric of Wales came into being in 1920 with the dis-establishment of the Church in Wales but prior to that Wales came under Canterbury.

A valuable resource for researching clergymen is Crockford's Clerical Directory which has been published since 1858.
It lists Anglican clergymen with their parish and how much they earned.
Over time it is possible to follow the lives of individual clergymen from their entries in Crockfords.

Another useful source book if you can find one, might be Records of the Church of England; A Practical Guide for Family Historians by S Bourne & A Chicken, 1991.

(Content last reviewed 11 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Until the end of the C19 it was a common misapprehension that a wife was her husband's chattel and so could be sold by him if he so wished.

The customary practice was to take her to a market place, hang a halter around her neck and put her up for auction.

Recorded cases of wife sale occur from the late C17.

Prices recorded from all over the country vary from 4 pence to £50.

In 1891 the Chancellor of the day ruled that no law gave a husband complete dominion over the person of his wife.

Wife selling - on wikipedia

(Content last reviewed 11 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


In 1696 a new tax on housing replaced the Hearth Tax which had been ended a few years earlier.

One of the chief objections to the latter had been that it could involve the intrusion of inspectors into private dwellings, in contrast the Window Tax was assessed from outside.

Nevertheless it was objected to on the grounds that it was a tax on light and air.

The tax was imposed on the occupiers, not the owners, and small dwellings whose occupants did not pay poor or church rate were exempt, others were charged on an increasing scale.

Householders would reduce their totals by blocking up non essential windows, and for this reason the total yield fell instead of rising.

In 1747 a new Act was passed with an increasing sliding scale depending on how many windows there were !

It was finally abolished in 1851.

The few extant records are at the National Archives, they have the name and address of the tax payer, number of windows and amount of tax paid.

[see also Hearth Tax].

Window Tax on wikipedia

(Content last reviewed 11 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


In the Plantagenet (on wikipedia) period the word meant a knight's servant or retainer.

There were also Yeomen of the King's Chamber, who were minor court officials under the Chamberlain.

At that period there was a class of freemen called Franklins (men of substance and gentle birth) and under the Tudors they gradually became either 'gentlemen' (non armigerous) or yeomen . Broadly speaking the latter constituted a stratum of the cultivators of the soil, either freeholders or tenants, who differed from the minor gentry more by their way of life than by economic category.
The yeoman would put his own hand to work that the gentleman would employ servants to do, and his wife likewise, but many a young man of gentle and even armigerous[ bearing arms] family was styled yeoman as long as he lived like one, i.e until he inherited his father's estate.

Below the yeoman class came the equally ill defined stratum of Husbandman, whose land-holding was normally smaller.

The standing of the yeomanry is reflected in the later use of the word for the local volunteer force, mounted on their own horses, as distinct from the [infantry] militia.

The mid C15th hierarchal scale in local society was knight, esquire, gentleman, yeoman, husbandman.

(Content last reviewed 11 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


In the Middle Ages the religious houses had traditionally helped the poor with alms and shelter, but the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII ended that and the church itself became poorer and less able to do this.

The Poor Law Act of 1601 (on wikipedia) was passed in the reign of Elizabeth I and Churchwardens and householders were now required to give assistance to the poor and sick of the parish who could apply for 'out relief ' which they received in their own homes, be it money or jobs.
They might also be taken into the workhouse, if one existed in that parish, where they worked for their keep.
For the purposes of this Act a person was now recognised as being legally a settled inhabitant of a particular parish after a month's abode there.

Although there were some workhouses before this date, in 1723 an Act of Parliament authorised parish officials to set up workhouses in their parishes, with the agreement of the majority of parishioners.
The main purpose being to provide a place to give relief to the poor of the parish.
The same Act allowed workhouse overseers to refuse relief to paupers who would not go into a workhouse.
Parishes were allowed to combine together and share the costs if they were too small to support their own workhouse.

Another Act of 1782 allowed parishes to come together in voluntary unions to administer the poor law and employ paid guardians in the union workhouse.

By 1834 the cost of providing poor relief was becoming a burden and many thought that the system encouraged people to avoid work and "live on the parish". [So what's new ?]. The Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 (on wikipedia) brought in significant changes.
Parishes were now made to amalgamate into Unions, each with a Board of Guardians to administer relief.
The latter were elected by those parishioners who paid the poor rates .

From 1834 each Union was to be split into separate districts each with a relieving officer whose job it was to assess the circumstances of anyone applying for relief.
The able bodied were no longer to be given outdoor relief but were to be admitted to a workhouse.
Conditions in workhouses varied , the good ones perhaps on a par with a pauper's own home, the worst being more like prisons.
Outdoor relief could still be granted to the old and sick, and widows with children, or until a workhouse had been built [all had them by 1865].
It seems the criteria for relief was not applied uniformly and in areas of high unemployment outdoor relief might still be granted .

I have read that the rigid /inhumane [perceived ?] application of the 1834 legislation was possibly one contributory factor to the social unrest behind the Rebecca Riots (on wikipedia) of 1839+ in rural west Wales.

The Boards of Guardians were the responsibility of the Poor Law Commission in London, and in 1919 became part of the Ministry of Health.

The necessity for poor law and workhouses was in part dealt with by the introduction of old age pensions and unemployment insurance in 1908 and 1911.

Boards of Guardians were abolished in 1930 when Local Authorities took over from the Unions.

Many workhouses continued until 1948 [National Assistance Act] when some were converted into hospitals and asylums.

Extant Records of Poor Law Unions will be either at the relevant County Record Office or the PRO.
Archives Wales has data on where extant workhouse records are held in Welsh ROs

A sample entry from Archives Network Wales for Pontardawe Workouse in Llangiwg parish, Glamorgan;

"Pontardawe Union Board of Guardians Records
"Until the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834, relief of the poor was the responsibility of the parish. Following the Act, parishes were grouped into Unions that were charged to provide a workhouse for the relief of the able-bodied poor. Pontardawe Poor Law Union was formed in 1875 from the parishes that formed the north-west part of the Neath Poor Law Union, consisting of Cilybebyll, Llangiwg, Mawr, Rhyndwyglydach, Ynysymwn, Ystradgynlais Higher and Ystradgynlais Lower in Glamorgan. The Union workhouse was situated in Pontardawe and was opened in 1879. The Board of Guardians responsible for the Union had other duties from time to time, including the registration of births, marriages and deaths, vaccinations, assessments of rates, sanitation, school attendance and infant life protection. By the time of the Local Government Act 1929 unions were abolished and their duties transferred to County Councils, with responsibility for the poor being transferred to the Public Assistance Committee until 1948. The workhouse became Pontardawe Public Assistance Institution in 1930 when the functions of the Poor Law Union were transferred to the Glamorgan County Council. In 1948, it became the Danybryn Hostel which finally closed in 1988. The building was demolished shortly afterwards and sheltered housing now occupies the site"
"......... including minutes, 1875-1936; financial records, 1875-1958; inmate registers and records, 1902-1979; workhouse administration records, 1901-1953; valuation lists, 1898-1927; photographs, c.1880-1988; Pontardawe Union Rural Sanitary Authority records, 1883-1898"

There is also a feature on Pontardawe Workhouse on Cwmgors a'r Waun

Reference books etc

  • There are two specialised guides to consult on the whereabouts of extant Union records;
    • Poor Law Union Records, 3: South/West England,the Marches and Wales . FFHS 1993. By Gibson, J & Rogers, C.
    • Poor Law Union Records, 4 ; Gazetteer of England & Wales. FFHS 1993. By Gibson, J & Youngs, FA.

The must visit site for Workhouses is Peter Higginbotham's The Workhouse - this section lists the workhouses in Wales by place/county, and here is data on Archives Holding Poor Law Records in the UK and Ireland

See also Poor Law Union on this site

(Content last reviewed 11 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


This section specifically relates to post 1837 birth registration procedures regarding illegitimate children.

Between 1837 and 1965 it is reckoned about 4% to 7% of births were illegitimate, it is therefore not unusual to come across one or two in one's family research !

The surname of any child [which can be any name the parents desire] has only been entered in the register [and hence on a birth certificate] since 1 April 1969. Before that date it was inferred from the parents' name.
Column 2 of the birth certificate merely says "Name, if any", whereas column 4 , for example, asks for " Name, and surname of father".

The surname of a father of an illegitimate child rarely appears on the register, the space being blank, only the mother's name is usually given.
Before 1875, the mother was allowed to name any man as the father; he was not required to acknowledge paternity.
From that date , a man could only be named as the father if he consented and was present at the registration.
If a father is not named, further research might involve the parish or poor law union records .

If an illegitimate ancestor used the mother's surname, but the birth is not found under that name, it is possible it was registered under the father's name after all, possibly with his agreement despite not being married to the mother.
As a mother was apparently not required to present proof that she was married, it is also possible that a registration was sometimes made on the basis that she pretended she was married.
In which case it would be worth searching the surname of any future husband, or , say, any male living in the same premises on a census return.

An illegitimate child can now be issued with a birth certificate which gives him or her the surname of either the father or the mother but the father's name can only appear on the registration entry if an affiliation order has been issued, or he signs the entry, or has acknowledged paternity through a statutory declaration.

Until 1977, foundlings [a Foundling being an abandoned child of unknown parentage] were registered by Boards of Guardians and are indexed in the usual way under whatever surname was chosen for the child.

Illegitimate children in parish registers - on this site

Illegitimacy, some suggestions for tracing parents - on this site

(Content last reviewed 6 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Historical background to voting qualification in parliamentary elections.

In the UK today, all men and women over 18 can vote at national parliamentary elections, this wasn't always so.

Pre 1832 the old system had been the same for years, Welsh counties were only entitled to return one member of parliament [MP] each .
Welsh boroughs mostly shared this same entitlement with another borough.
Expanding towns like Merthyr Tydfil had no member of their own to represent them.

There were also "rotten" and "pocket " boroughs which did have MPs, the first was a no longer existing borough, and the second, controlled by a local lord or major landowner.
For example, the Morgan family continuously represented Brecon for 80 years, at one point only 17 men were eligible to vote there.

Nationally, in 1830, only one man in twelve could vote, and no women at all.
Those who could vote were open to be bribed or threatened, the system was very corrupt.
MPs were not paid so only the wealthy could enter, the country was run by, and for, the landed gentry.

The Reform Act of 1832 (on wikipedia) came about after considerable social unrest, even civil rioting , although it didn't change anything like as much as most people wanted.
Counties were divided to reflect population distribution and Wales gained 5 more seats overall with Merthyr Tydfil and Swansea now being able to elect their own MPs.

But still only one man in seven could vote, for example, Merthyr had only 500 eligible voters.
Voting was still not secret, see below for changes in the voting qualification.
The disappointment felt by the population at large lead directly to the birth of the Chartism Movement. (on wikipedia)

Who exactly could vote in parliamentary elections ?

Until the late C19 , the qualification for voting was generally linked to land ownership and therefore this was a right enjoyed by a minority of men.

  • From the C15 the qualification in the counties was ownership, by adult men only, of freehold land with an annual value of at least 40 shillings.
    In cities and boroughs the right to vote often depended on local custom.

In the C19, voting qualifications were amended in 1832 , 1867 and 1884.

  • In 1832 enfranchisement was extended in boroughs to men who were householders [thus including tenants] of land worth at least £10 pa, but in counties only to male owners of land of the same value.
  • Relatively few people are found in Electoral registers until 1867 when there was a large increase in voters, the franchise being extended to all male owners of real property worth £5 in the counties plus those who occupied land and paid rent of £50 pa
  • An interesting aspect of the Welsh political scene in the second half of the C19 was an indirect link between religion and politics which saw ordinary people looking to the Methodists as their champions against wealthy landowners who were invariably Anglicans and also Tory [Conservative] supporters. This resulted in the bulk of nonconformist Welsh chapel-going people giving their support to the Liberals and, in 1868, twenty one Welsh Liberal MPs were elected to Parliament.
    The Tory landowners took their revenge and threw hundreds of farmers off their land.
    This directly lead, in 1872 , to a law being passed making voting secret, so that landowners no longer knew how their tenants voted.
  • By 1884 the majority of adult male householders were able to vote with those living in the counties being granted the same rights as those in Boroughs, effectively the majority of males over 21 were now able to vote.
  • In 1918 the franchise was extended to all male adults [over 21] resident in a constituency.
    Women over 30, who were householders or wives of householders, were granted the right to vote in parliamentary elections in 1918 but not until 1928 were women over 21 enfranchised.

Who could vote at local Elections ?

  • The Municipal Corporations Act 1835 extended the right to vote at local elections to men who paid the poor rate.
  • From 1869 women who had the required property qualification, and who paid rates, could also vote in local elections

Local rate books, where extant, will normally be held at the County Archives

Poll Books

Poll Books show the names of men who voted in parliamentary elections and the candidates that they voted for.
They list the electors by name , show their parish of residence and how they voted, also sometimes their exact address and the property which gave them the right to vote.
They are usually arranged by parish, hundred or township.
Since secret balloting was introduced in 1872 then the last possible date for surviving Poll Books is for the parliamentary election of 1868.
Extant Poll Books are rare pre 1711 but they do survive after that and are usually to be found in the County Archives, County Libraries or the SOG.

Electoral Registers

Electoral registers came in in 1832 and show the names of people entitled to vote in parliamentary elections.
They only show those who were actually entitled to vote, not who actually used their vote or who they voted for.
Registers for national elections have been compiled , and still are, every year since 1832, except the C20 War years.
Extant Electoral registers, or copies, are held at County Archives/Town Halls/Libraries.

The British Library has the national collection of electoral registers from 1832 to the present day.
The collection is complete from 1947 onwards, but patchy before World War 2.

Electoral Rolls - on this site

Further reading;

  • J. Gibson and C. Rogers, Poll books c1696-1872: a directory to holdings in Great Britain. 3rd ed. Birmingham: Federation of Family History Societies, 1994.
  • J. Gibson and C. Rogers, Electoral registers since 1832. 2nd ed. Birmingham: Federation of Family History Societies, 1990.

(Content last reviewed 5 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


The office of coroner was established in 1194.
Coroners hold inquests into suspicious or sudden deaths, they also decide on whether valuable finds are treasure trove.

An inquest into a death would be heard by a jury which consisted of between 12 and 23 people up until 1926, but between 7 and 11 after that. Coroners traditionally had jurisdiction over a county, some boroughs had their own, but in 1888 counties were divided into districts and a coroner was thereafter appointed by the local authority.
Coroners became salaried from 1860.

Many coroners' records have been lost or destroyed, any surviving from before 1875 are now officially preserved but records over 15 years old can be destroyed apart from those relating to treasure trove and any deemed to be in the public interest, those being transferred to local public Archives.
Any surviving records are to be found at The National Archives, there is a Gibson Guide to Coroners' Records published by the FFHS and this should be consulted before starting a detailed search.
These records are generally only open to public access after 75 years, unless especially authorised by a coroner.
The actual records should include the depositions of witnesses, minute details of events leading up to the death, the name, age, address, and cause of death of the deceased, details of evidence presented, and of course the inquest court's verdict.

Given the fact that many coroners' records are not extant, or closed by time, it is potentially very useful that many inquest verdicts since the C18 were reported by local newspapers, often in great detail. The County Archives or main local reference Libraries are the most likely source of extant newspapers and indeed some have been indexed.
Newsplan Cymru - Search here on a place name and it will report on which newspapers cover the area and where extant copies are held

Some early records have been published, early records are generally in Latin and rarely calendared.

A death certificate should record whether a coroner's inquest was held on the death concerned, the burial register should also show this fact even pre 1837.

Since 1837 a certificate is required from a Registrar or the coroner before a body can be buried or cremated.

In modern times the coroner is advised by the registrar if the deceased had not been seen by a doctor within two weeks of the death; or had suffered a recent accident, violence, industrial disease or medical operation failure.
Still births might also be referred to the coroner by the Registrar in circumstances where there is a suspicion that the child was alive when born.

Until 1926 coroner's jury was obliged to actually view the corpse, the coroner still had to do so right up until 1980.

See The National Archives for extant records

(Content last reviewed 5 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


In medieval times, each manor had a beadle or reeve whose function was to collect profits, dues and fines on behalf of the lord of the manor.
Other names used for this job might be bailiff or steward.

Beadles didn't get a wage from the lord of the manor but instead paid the lord an annual sum for the privilege of handling his affairs.
In his turn the beadle was maintained by the tenants of the manor who paid him a due called a 'commorth'.

Here is an commorth related extract from the Carmarthenshire Historian vol 19, the article is An Historical View of Iscoed by D. Gerald Jones, Q.F.S.M., B.SC.

"Historically, Iscoed lay in the commote of Cydweli outside the castle and borough of Cydweli lands. It was, like Carnawllon, predominantly peopled by free tribesmen. In charge was the beadle, with the responsibility of collecting dues to the Norman lords at Cydweli Castle. In this commote the administrative areas in the 14th and 15th centuries included Iscoed and Uwchcoed. The first charge mentioned in the account of the beadle of Iscoed Moris was a sum paid by the community to be relieved of the responsibility of supporting the sergeants of the peace. Rent of assize was also paid and represented commuted dues and services. The major payments were the great and small commorth, payable every third year on the first day of May. The commorth was, in origin, a tribute of cows and assessment passed from the kindred to the holding. Iscoed was divided into ten cow units (vaccae). The tenants of each unit were jointly responsible for the price of a cow (5s.) in the great commorth. This due had increased to 6/8d in the 15th century. Many of these units are still identifiable, e.g. Vacca Ithole (Idole), Vacca Kelly march (Cilymarch), Vaccade Treflymsy (Trelymsi), Vaccade Kelthetese (Gellideg). The small commorth did not bear any apparent relationship in amount to the larger payment; it was described as "money with these cows". "

(Content last reviewed 2 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)



Non-conformist' is a term used to describe religious denominations which are outside the established Church of England, otherwise referred to as the Anglican church, [or, in Wales, the Church in Wales].

The term Dissenters is sometimes thought to be synonymous with Non-conformists but should correctly be more narrowly defined - Dissenters were Non-conformists who did not agree with various aspects of Anglicanism, such as the rigid authority structure with the monarch at its head and were identified as such in the Act of Toleration 1689 .
Further reading on wikipedia and the victorian web.

It was from the Puritan movement that the first dissenting sects developed after being forced outside the Anglican Church in the 1660 to 1688 period when they were persecuted for their beliefs. They had to accept exclusion from power as the price of toleration and from this point the gentry became Anglican.
Although declining initially, during the C18, under the influence of men such as John Wesley, non-conformism's presence increased greatly and in the C19 certainly influenced the new 'Victorian morality'.

There follows a list of the main non-conformist denominations which largely corresponds to those separately detailed in the book Tracing Nonconformist Ancestors, PRO 2001. The latter book in fact deals with Protestant non-conformists in England and therefore does not cover Catholicism which I have listed below for the convenience of researchers without regard to any accuracy of definition of the term non-conformist.


A high proportion of non-conformist registers existing as at 1837 were handed in to the PRO by 1857 and can be viewed on microfilm at the National Archives, Kew.
They are also widely available at county ROs and the SOG.
Unfortunately many chapels did not keep the type of records we genealogists crave, and many records simply did not survive anyway.
Worth noting that non-conformist marriages and burials may well appear in Anglican registers and that not all non-conformists baptised babies as such.

The National Archives has an online research guide on non-conformist records

Further reading;

  • Granville, Neville. Chapel Going (NLW's site) Morgannwg 47 [A thoroughly instructive read]
  • Tracing Nonconformist Ancestors, PRO 2001 which has been an invaluable guide in producing these brief notes.
  • Nonconformist Registers of Wales (1994) NLW. - now out of date (and print?) unfortunately
  • The Parish Churches and Nonconformist Chapels of Wales, vol I Cardiganshire, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire by Bert Rawlins (1989) Out of date and print


See Nonconformist marriages on this site

(Content last reviewed 7 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


The Bible Christian Church was a Methodist church which in 1907 in England was amalgamated with the United Methodist Free Churches and the Methodist New Connexion, to form the United Methodist Church, then in 1932 merged into the Methodist Church.
See also Bible Christian Church on the Wikipedia site


Huguenots were French Protestants, c 60,000 came to England c1685 after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Most formed settlements in London, none in Wales.

The Huguenots were Calvinists and organised in the style of the Presbyterians.

The Huguenot Library is at University College, Gower St, London, WC1E 6BT.

Further reading; Huguenot Heritage; the History and Contribution of the Huguenots in Britain, R D Gwynn 1985


Although Jewish merchants could be found here before the Commonwealth period, the Jewish community has only existed officially in Britain since 1656 when Oliver Cromwell gave permission for Jews to live here. Although tracing Jewish ancestry has similar problems to any FH research , there is a wealth of extant records available.

There was an influx of Jews from Europe in the late C18, mainly peddlers, jewellers and craftsmen e.g tailors. Although they could settle here and worship within their own faith without fear of persecution, they had few civil rights. They could marry in a synogogue after the 1752 Hardwicke Act.

In the 1880s , to escape persecution, there was mass emmigration of Jews from Poland and Russsia and many found their way here, some going on to North America.

By c 1910 the number of Jews settled in London's East End was c 125,000, initially wanting to live there amongst fellow Jews but in time moving out to suburbs such as Golders Green and Stanmore. At this time there were also flourishing Jewish communities in other UK cities such as Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow.

There was yet another major influx in the 1930/40 period, this time escaping persecution in Germany, Czechoslavakia and Austria.

In research terms, the Jewish family historian comes up against similar problems to those struggling with Welsh patronymics and a small stock of common surnames.

Two useful looking books for beginners ;

  • My Ancestors were Jewish, How can I find out more about them by Isobel Mordy, SOG, 1995.
  • Jewish Ancestors ? A Beginner's Guide to Jewish Genealogy in Great Britain, Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain, 2000

Related web sites;

Jewish Chronicle https://www.thejc.com/

JewishGen UK Database https://www.jewishgen.org/databases/uk/ A database of Jewish names - marriages, censuses etc


An ancient borough was a town run by a corporation and which had certain privileges conferred on it by a Royal Charter or by Statute. These privileges might have included a degree of exemption from the county's jurisdiction; the right to hold fairs and markets; and the right to separate parliamentary representation.

An example is the town and borough of Pembroke described as follows in Samuel Lewis' Topographical Dictionary of Wales (1833);-

"The inhabitants of Pembroke received their first charter of incorporation from Gilbert Strongbow, Earl of Pembroke, in the reign of Stephen; but the earliest of which any record is preserved they obtained in the reign of John: various others have been granted to them by succeeding sovereigns..........."

Another excerpt from the same source relates to the borough of Tenby;-

"The inhabitants were first incorporated by William de Valence ...............this nobleman's charter, ordaining that the burgesses should choose annually from among themselves two portreeves, and that they should have free common over all his lands from mowing and reaping times until the Feast of the Purification, is still extant .......... Henry IV., by charter granted in the year 1402, first vested the government in a mayor and two bailiffs, to be elected annually. Elizabeth, in the 23rd of her reign, confirmed all preceding charters, and incorporated the inhabitants under the designation of "the mayor, bailiffs, and burgesses of the borough of Tenby...................."

It is no coincidence that both these above places are in Pembrokeshire, it was a feature of the Norman occupation of the coastal band of the county that boroughs were created in strategic places in conjunction with the building of castles.

Another example is Caernarvon in CAE - also from Samuel Lewis' Topographical Dictionary of Wales (1833)

"This town, the first in the principality that received a royal charter, was, as before observed, constituted a free borough by Edward I., almost immediately after his conquest of Wales : the burgesses were allowed to have a prison for misdemeanants, independently of the sheriff of the county, and were permitted to form a mercantile guild, and invested with divers privileges. If any villein, or bondman, lived within the precincts of the town for a year and a day, either possessing lands or paying scot and lot, he could not be reclaimed by his lord, but became enfranchised, and entitled to all the immunities of the borough : the burgesses were exempted, in every part of the kingdom, from the payment of talliage, lastage, passage, murage, pontage, and every other local imposition and tax: Jews were not permitted to reside in the borough; nor could the burgesses be convicted of any crime committed between the rivers Conway and Dovey, which district included nearly the whole of the counties of Carnarvon and Merioneth, except by a jury of their own townsmen. By the charter the government is vested in a mayor, who is always the constable of the castle (that office being at present held by the Most Noble the Marquis of Anglesey), two bailiffs, a recorder, and steward, and an indefinite number of burgesses, assisted by a town-clerk, two stewards, two serjeants at mace, and other officers. The constable of the castle holds his office by patent, and the bailiffs are chosen annually from among the burgesses, on the 29th of September, and, with the mayor or constable of the castle, are justices of the peace within the borough."

(Content last reviewed 1 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Cantref was a medieval Welsh word used to describe a territorial/administrative area of land ( cant hundred, and tref town/place).

A commote (on wikipedia) is a sub division of a cantref (not to be confused with Commorth which contains an example of a commote)

Cantref on wikipedia

OED has these illustrations ;

  • "Anglesey....is divided into three cantrefs ..... and each of these into two comots".
  • "Cantred or rather cantref signifies an hundred villages..."

The following is from A History of Carmarthenshire by Sir John E. Lloyd from which it is apparent that the description of the commote of Cydweli corresponds exactly in terms of parishes with the hundred of the same name;-

"In early medieval terms Carmarthenshire was made up of Ystrad Tywi [without Gower], Emlyn Uch Cuch and Y Cantref Gwarthaf [without Efelffre]. At some point pre the Norman conquest Ystrad Tywi itself was divided into Y Cantref Mawr and Y Cantref Bychan......................the names of the commotes into which this cantref was divided were undoubtedly well known..........hence it would appear as if Cydweli, Carnwyllion, and Gower had been at some time or other combined to make up a cantref which was not an ancient and recognised division of the country.................... the historic commote of Cydweli consisted of the six parishes of Llangynnor, Llandyfaelog, Llangyndeyrn, St Ishmaels, Kidwelly and Pembrey............"

(Content last reviewed 2 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)

/Chapel of ease

A chapelry is a territorial sub-division of a parish, nothing to do with chapels as in the buildings used for worship by non-conformists .
Chapelries generally came into being where an additional church was built to be more convenient for a local community which was some way from the parish church itself.
Chapelries sometimes later developed into parishes in their own right.

A chapel of ease per se didn't require to be a formal sub division of the parish but simply a convenience for remote parishioners - it might also be referred to as being 'without cure of souls', as noted in some of their descriptions on the 1851 Religious Census, for example. The expression 'cure of souls' is possibly used in the document which appoints a priest to a parish and is where the term "curate" also comes from. Originally any parish priest was called a curate, whether vicar or rector or whatever. So a chapel of ease 'without cure of souls' is a church or chapel which does not have a priest appointed for it.

Some examples from the 1851 Religious census of how the problems of large parishes were addressed, or not

  • LLAN-NEWYDD (Llanrhidian Higher Hamlet) . A Chapel of Ease
    "Whereas it appears evident by this document that the Government is desirous to get information, I beg to observe that it would be well for the spiritual well-being of this Kingdom were the Government to divide long and large Parishes. This Parish being about 11 miles long, How is it possible for a Clergyman to attend the spiritual requirements of such a Parish? "
  • Llandyssul Parish Church, CGN
    "The Parish being near 7 miles long and between 5 and 6 broad, a Cottage lecture is delivered every other Sunday in the evening in a distant part of the Parish. The lecture yesterday was delivered at a place distant about three miles from the Parish Church"
  • Llanfihangel Geneu'r Glyn Parish Church, CGN
    "There are two schoolrooms in the Parish which have been licensed by the Bishop for the purpose of performing Divine Service therein and this is done once in each every Sunday at 4 and 6 o'clock pm. Estimate number attending at each is 100 "

(The above all taken from from The Religious census of 1851 : A Calendar of the returns relating to Wales, Vol 1, South Wales. Ed. by I.G Jones, &D. Williams. UWP, Cardiff, 1976.)

(Content last reviewed 2 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Commoner, a word with two distinct uses;

  • Someone who has rights over Common Land
  • Anyone who in the social class sense stands below the rank of a peer of the realm

See article on wikipedia

(Content last reviewed 2 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Today's common lands are what remains of that large area of open land known as 'waste' at the time of the manorial system, see Manor .
The waste was the poor quality land, the better land being used to grow crops.

In the Middle Ages most villages were made up of a group of dwellings surrounded by open fields and beyond those fields were the open expanses and woods of the common.

Often common land was not adjacent to the village, in my ancestors' part of Llangiwg local farmers had commoners' rights over land well away from the nearest village, at the top of the mountain - used for grazing their cattle and sheep.

Although legal ownership of common land was held by the Lord of the Manor, commoners' rights had legal recognition and were protected by the courts.

See article on naturenet

For common land in a modern context - see directgovuk

(Content last reviewed 2 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Originally an officer appointed by a Court Leet, see Manor .
His responsibilites were many and varied, it is worth considering the sheer range of his duties which included;

  • the collection of rates and taxes;
  • the supervision of jury service;
  • inspection of ale-houses;
  • apprenticing of pauper children;
  • poor relief and supervision of itinerants and beggars;
  • collection of maintenance from the fathers of illigitimate children;
  • training of local militia;
  • the suppression of riot and unlawful assembly;
  • the apprehension of escaped prisoners or suspected criminals;
  • the convening of parish meetings etc etc.

As parochial authority developed, and that of the manor diminished, the Vestry took over many of the above duties.
In 1842 such parochial duties were legally conferred on vestries, subject to the approval of the justices of the peace.

(Content last reviewed 4 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


A territorial division (of a country) forming the chief unit of local administration. (OED)

In England the word county came into use after the Norman conquest, superceding the Anglo-saxon word shire.

Many English shires conformed to the boundaries of the various ancient kingdoms, e.g Mercia, Wessex, Northumbra, York etc.

The 1832 Reform Act (on wikipedia) created specific parliamentary counties (for representation purposes) and these weren't necessarily co-terminous with ancient counties.

The 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act (on wikipedia)created further confusion by grouping parishes into Poor Law unions and these parishes could well have been in separate ancient counties.

In Wales, counties came into being after the Act of Union in 1536, (on wikipedia) with Monmouthshire, as the thirteenth county, remaining in dispute until the major 1974 reshuffle brought it firmly within Gwent,Wales.

There was a further reshuffle of counties in 1996, see Welsh Counties, then and now

The Local Government Act of 1888 (on wikipedia) created county councils, i.e the elected governing body of an administrative county.

A county borough was a large borough ranking as a county for administrative purposes.

(Content last reviewed 5 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


The dissolution of the monasteries, achieved by Acts of Parliament in 1536 and 1539.
This was Henry VIII's 'master stroke' to destroy the entire monastic system in order to appropriate their considerable wealth and to facilitate the establishment of royal supremacy.

The process of dispossession and dispersal was finally over by 1540, it was often brutal.
For example in 1539 one Abbot Richard Whyting was hanged drawn and quartered on Glastonbury Tor for refusing to release the abbey plate to the Crown Commissioners.

The site Monastic Wales includes a list of monastery sites in Wales

From Monastic Wales; "The religious houses of medieval Wales have long been overshadowed by their more numerous, generally more prosperous, and normally better documented neighbours east of Offa's Dyke. Yet their history is inseparable from the religious, cultural, economic, political, literary and urban history of Wales during the period between the arrival of the Normans in the late eleventh century and the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the sixteenth."

See also Dissolution on wikipedia

(Content last reviewed 5 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


After the Conquest of 1066, William the Conqueror granted most of the lands of the native nobility to his own followers.

In 1085 he sent out Commissioners ' all over England (but not Wales) .... to find out ....what and how much each landowner held ..... in land and livestock, and what it was worth..'

The survey was completed efficiently within a year and established each landowner's clear tax liability.

The name derives from the belief that its judgement was as final as that of Doomsday.

The original survey, in two volumes and now referred to as the 'Domesday Book', is at the National Archives

The Domesday Book Online site

(Content last reviewed 5 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Duke ;- the most senior rank in British peerage below the monarch or a Prince.
A woman holding the rank of duke in her own right, or the wife of a duke, is a duchess.

Marquess (or Marquis);- the second rank, introduced from Europe in 1385.
The wife of a marquess is a marchioness

Earl ;- the third rank. the oldest English title, and most senior until 1337 when the Black Prince was made a duke.
The wife of an earl is a countess.

Viscount ;- the fourth rank, first created in 1440.
The wife of a viscount is a viscountess

Baron ;- the fifth rank, his wife is a baroness.

More on Debtrett's site

(Content last reviewed 8 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


"The Norman Conquest was followed by a period of colonisation, with Anglo-Normans, English and Flemings being encouraged to occupy the lands once held by the vanquished Welsh.
These lands were in the south of the county, and the effect of this influx of foreign settlers was to divide Pembrokeshireinto two halves - the north, which remained Welsh in language and culture, and the south which became increasingly Anglicised.
While the southern part of the county is often called the ' Englishry', so the northern part is known as the ' Welshry'...................

The ' Landsker' (see wikipedia) is the name given to the imaginary line dividing the 'Welshry' from the 'Englishry', and although no longer as sharply defined as it was 500 years ago, it remains an identifiable boundary between the two separate but complementary cultures which give Pembrokeshire its unique linguistic character "( Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority)

"The Englishry within each Marcher lordship in Wales normally consisted of a) the castle, b) the manor, c) the borough and d) the subinfeuded lands, each having its own castle or residence and its demesnes '.
"The Englishry of the royal marcher lordship of Carmarthen consisted primarily of Carmarthen borough, the castle, and its demesne lands at Llanllwch" (A History of Carmarthenshire by Sir John E Lloyd.1935, 1939. )

(Content last reviewed 5 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Some geographical areas were not included within adjacent parish boundaries and were not themselves recognised as parishes for reasons such as ;
association with the crown, or a religious house before the Dissolution, or a cathedral chapter, or other corporate body.

They therefore 'suffered' none of the usual obligations of a parish, such as taxation for maintaining the poor - at least until legislation in 1857 as far as the poor were concerned.

In 1868 a further Act decreed that extra-parochial places should be added to the adjoining parish with the longest common boundary - this still left out such places as lighthouses and small islands which had no such boundary !

Extra parochial area - on wikipedia

(Content last reviewed 5 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Fairs often have their origins in the 13th and 14th centuries, many were annual and sometimes took place on the feast or holy days of the local church.
They were concerned with trade and commerce but also entertainment.
The exclusive right to hold a fair was established through a royal or manorial charter which specified the days on which it was to be held.

To illustrate, this extract from Kelly's Directory South Wales 1910 refers to Capel Cynon chapelry in the parish of Llandysiliogogo in Cardiganshire;

"Two fairs are held here annually on Ascension Day and on Michaelmas Day respectively, and are generally large and well attended. These fairs are said to have had their origin in the custom which once prevailed of assembling here on Ascensiontide and Michaelmas for the purpose of public worship and the partaking of Holy Communion, in consequence of which the neighbouring farmers and others were wont to bring hither large supplies of provisions and other goods for the throngs of visitors."

See Principal Markets and Fairs in South Wales. From Kelly's Directory South Wales 1910 - here is a small selection of the entries which are indicative of the range of products handled and their frequency;

  • Aberystwyth, fairs May 10 & September for horses & cattle, & the two first mondays after November 12 for hiring servants. Market days, monday & saturday & cattle fair or market is held on the first monday in every month
  • Llandilo, February 20, monday before Easter (for cattle, pigs & flannel), May 5 & 14, June 21, July 28, August 23, September 28, October 28, November 12 & 22 (for horses & horned cattle) & the monday before Christmas day (for horses, horned cattle, pigs & welsh flannel). All cattle & horse fairs are followed next day by a pig fair. Market day, saturday & there is a market for fat & store cattle, sheep & pigs every monday & on the 2nd & 4th tuesday in each month & for fat & store cattle & store sheep & lambs every tuesday between the 2nd tuesday in May & the last tuesday in June
  • Neath, last wednesday in March; hiring fair, also stock, horse & wool, 1st & 2nd wednesdays after May 12; June, Trinity wednesday; July, last wednesday, cattle & horse; also the great pleasure fair of the year, October, last wednesday; hiring & horse & cattle, 1st & 2nd wednesday after 12 th November. Market days, wednesday (which is the principal market) & saturday. There is also a market for the sale of horses, cattle &c. on the last wednesday in every month
  • Pembroke, fair for pleasure & hiring, October 10 & the saturday following. Market day, saturday & a cattle market on the last monday in each month

(Content last reviewed 5 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


An abandoned child of unknown parents, they became a charge on the poor rate and are recorded in Vestry minutes.

Can also be seen referred to as such (foundling) in parish baptism records.

Child abandonment on wikipedia

(Content last reviewed 5 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


The main uses of the word freeman are;

  • A tenant who held land at a fixed rent and free of feudal service.
  • A man who has served his apprenticeship and is free to conduct his trade in his own right.
  • Before 1835, a citizen entitled to claim exemption from tolls and a share of the profits of his city or borough.

The origins of the word can be found in medieval merchants and craftsmen who helped to found urban communities.

OED refers to a burgess as a freeman of a borough --- In the precise context of the third definition above, I'm not clear what difference, if any, there is between a freeman and a burgess. The following example refers to burgesses in particular;

"Period 1158 to 1184 --- that Swansea is a town of great antiquity and importance is also demonstrated by its many charters. The first was granted between these dates by William de Newburgh, Earl of Warwick. This was followed by charters from King John[1215], Henry III [1234], William de Breos [Lord of Gower & Kilvey 1305], Edward II [1312,1317], Edward III [1332 , 1338], Lord Henry[Earl of Worcester,Lord of Gower & Kylvey, Chepstow & Raglan 1532], and James II [1685]. The first mentioned Charter gave Swansea the status of a Borough and granted the townsmen, designated burgesses, the right of taking oak from the woods in and around Swansea to make their houses, fences and ships.........and to carry or sell whatever they wished.......peace in their homes and outside their houses for the space of 7 feet from their doors and on their burgages an oven, brewhouse, and household stuff and all their profits freely and quietly. No foreign merchant was to cut cloths by retail nor buy skins, nor hides, except of a burgess. The Charter from King John in 1215 to the town of Swansea gave the Burgesses the right to " go and come through all our land with their merchandise , to buy and sell and to do business." Swansea, its Port and Trade and their Development by Alderman Edward Harris, 1935)

See also Boroughs

(Content last reviewed 5 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Trade guilds developed from the 12th century religious fraternities which evolved around a church, monastery or hospice and whose saint they adopted as their patron.
Members often also worked together in a single trade or craft.
This association grew into a mutual protection society making provision for the sick and needy in their own particular communities.
They also promoted the interests and standards of their own trade/craft through apprenticeships, and were empowered to inspect all goods handled by a guild's members.
They were able to ward off competition from strangers to their town/city/borough.

A guild's authority was obtained via a royal charter.

Carmarthen town and borough, once known as 'the Metropolis of South Wales, had its Trade Guilds, or Companies of Freemen. (See also Freeman)
In 1569 it had 'Fraternities of Tanners, Hamarmen, Tailors, Cordiners and Saddlers, granted', followed by Weavers, Tuckers & Glovers a few years later.

Extract below from The Woollen Industry by A B Jones & B L Davies ( A History of Carmarthenshire Lloyd, Sir John E., (Ed.). 2 vols., Cardiff, London Carmarthenshire Society (1935, 1939))

"From the literature of the 16th century, it may be gathered that the woollen business at this time was carried on along two different lines, namely, through the old town guilds and as a domestic pursuit in the homestead. That there was a guild at Carmarthen at this time is certain, and there may have been guilds in other towns. They had elaborate rules and all the craftsmen underwent a long and thorough period of apprenticeship. The guilds produced a greater variety and a better quality of goods than the peasants in their homesteads. Some of the best known products of the guilds were 'friezes, cottons, carsies, plaine and fine clothes,' and 'high cotton fryses.' These materials were disposed of in a number of ways, as in the Middle Ages; they were either sold at local fairs and markets direct to the consumer, or were sent to Oswestry and Shrewsbury, and frequently from thence to London."

Craft Guilds in the Middle Ages - on the middle-ages.org site

(Content last reviewed 6 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Although they've been around since before the Romans a 'hamlet' seems not to be a particularly precise concept, simplistically it's a cluster of buildings, bigger than a farmstead but smaller than a village. The oft quoted condition that it shouldn't have a church is unsound since some do.

In South Wales, as seen through census returns, the use of 'hamlet' appears to often refer to a much larger land area than implied in the above 'cluster of buildings' and these dwellings can be well apart geographically. I've even found myself somewhat arbitrarily referring to a 'rural hamlet' in these instances and in practical terms taken them to be sub-divisions of rural parishes.

Another observation I would make is that it is often frustrating to search a map for a village by name since it may not have officially existed as such until, for example, later in the 19th century. A hamlet would often develop into a village by natural growth in size and of facilities such a church/chapel, school, shops, pub etc.

Hamlet - on wikipedia

(Content last reviewed 6 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Is a formal agreement or inventory.

Often seen in the context of the agreement which was used to bind an apprentice or servant to his master, for example.

The derivation of the word comes from the practice of 'cutting in' text of a document in an irregular (zig zag ?) pattern to prevent forgery or false substitution.

On the People's Collection Wales site are several examples

Indenture - on wikipedia

(Content last reviewed 6 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


The Julian calendar (on wikipedia)was introduced by Caesar in 46BC, it contained 365 days and every fourth year was a leap year with 366 days.

In 1582, at the behest of Pope Gregory, it was superceded by the Gregorian calendar (on wikipedia) to make up for the 10 days that had accumulated by then because the Julian version was 11 minutes and 10 seconds too long.
But the change was not effected in Britain until 1752 when the 3rd September became the 14th September overnight.

Also, the start of the ' fiscal (or tax) year' (on wikipedia) was put back from 25th March to 6th April and New Year's Day moved back from 25 March (Lady Day) to 1st January.

This will explain why we see pre 1753 dates in old registers being shown, for example, as 10 January, 1733/4 - remember the 'calendar year' then ended on 24th March.

(Content last reviewed 2 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Two uses;

  • A group of manors whose lord were granted privileges of the Crown and from which the authority of the sheriff were excluded.
  • An area outside a borough in which freemen exercised certain rights, e.g of pasture

To illustrate;

"Tenby, a parish, including the In-Liberty and the Out-Liberty (each of which separately maintains its own poor), the former constituting the borough, and comprising the sea-port and market town of Tenby, and having exclusive jurisdiction, though locally in the hundred of Narberth, county of Pembroke............... The corporation hold quarterly courts of session for the borough ......... The jurisdiction of these courts extends over the entire In-Liberty of the parish, constituting the borough, in which neither the county magistrates nor the sheriff have any authority .........................Elizabeth, in the 23rd of her reign, confirmed all preceding charters, and incorporated the inhabitants under the designation of "the mayor, bailiffs, and burgesses of the borough of Tenby.............(Samuel Lewis' Topographical Dictionary of Wales, 1833)

(Content last reviewed 7 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Militia, of feudal origins, were a military force raised from the local population as standby in emergencies.

The 1672 Militia Act set up a system of military service based on statutory obligation.
The threat of a French invasion in the 1750s resulted in the passing of a further Act and militia regiments were reorganised in all counties of England & Wales and *parishes were required to draw up annual lists of adult males.

Milita forces were formed and disbanded regularly over the centuries in line with national emergencies.

In 1807 the Local Militia Act created local militia within each county which weren't required to serve outside their own or adjacent boundaries.

Annual militia returns were submitted to Quarter Sessions by the Lords Lieutenant of each county.

*The parish militia lists have been preserved in many County Archives and cover the general period 1758-1831, for instance I obtained the following detail when researching my wife's ancestors;
Hertfordshire Militia Lists [Stevenage];- Richard Norman 1778,1779,1781,1782, labourer

(Content last reviewed 7 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


A nominal or artificially low rent paid to its owner by someone enjoying the use of a property for a given period.

Intended as a simple acknowledgement that the property concerned continues in the legal ownership of the recipient of the peppercorn.

See also Land tenure

(Content last reviewed 8 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


An Act of 1782 (on wikipedia) introduced the voluntary combination of parishes into unions for Poor Law purposes.

This was made more general with the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act (on wikipedia) which appointed Boards of Guardians to manage poor relief within their groups of parishes - in forming these unions consideration was given to local convenience rather than administrative consistency, hence unions overlapping county boundaries in some cases .

The effect of this overlapping can be seen on the 1881 census place name index/analysis page of this site

To illustrate, from A Topographical Dictionary of Wales (S. Lewis, 1844).

"This county [Carmarthenshire]..............It comprises the poor law unions of Carmarthen, Llandilo-Vawr, Llandovery (except two parishes in Brecknockshire), and Llanelly (except the borough and parish of Lougher, in Glamorganshire), five parishes in the union of Lampeter, four in that of Newcastle-Emlyn, and some in Narberth union."

See English Poor Laws on wikipedia

See Parish Poor Law records on this site

Peter Higginbotham's site The Workhouse - which has data on Archives Holding Poor Law Records in the UK and Ireland

See also Workhouse

(Content last reviewed 10 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


Until 1823 it was the law of the land that anyone taking their own life could not be buried in consecrated ground (e.g the parish church graveyard).

This Act stopped the previous custom of burying a suicide in the roadway.

It was now lawful for these to be buried in consecrated ground, although without the benefit of a religious service.

It also brought to an end the tradition of driving a stake through the body and throwing lime over it.

Suicide in England and Wales - on wikipedia

(Content last reviewed 11 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


There was no official system of adoption before 1927, although the word itself was sometimes used for guardianship or fostering.

Although a pre 1927 'adopted' child should have retained his/her original surname it is quite possible that such a child would have been brought up with the surname of the foster parents or guardians.
I have two separate pre 1927 instances in my own ancestry and in both the child retained their original surname.
One of these was referred to as ' my adopted daughter Esther Jones' in her adopted father Williams Davies's 1901 will.

Any private arrangements before 1927 are not easy to find, charities such as Dr Barnardos did arrange adoptions and they will search their own records for a fee.

Since 1927, all adoptions granted by the courts in England and Wales, and some overseas adoptions, are recorded in the Adopted Children Register.
The register is not open to public search or inspection, but adopted persons and parents can apply to receive adoption certificates

Adoption related sites;

Adoption Search Reunion site - " intended to be the first port of call for anyone thinking about searching for or making contact with birth and adopted relatives or researching an adoption that took place in the UK"

(Content last reviewed 31 Aug 2011 - Gareth H)


"A deed poll is the technical term for a deed involving only one party. However, for most people deeds poll now have one meaning - change of name.
Changes of name by deed poll were (and are) made before a solicitor who could enrol them, for safekeeping, in the Close Rolls of Chancery or the later Enrolment Books of the Supreme Court of Judicature."

"Under English common law, a person may take a new surname, perfectly legally, without drawing up any formal record, provided that such action is not undertaken for the purpose of fraud of avoidance of obligation, etc. ...............
Many people who changed their name did not wish to draw attention to the fact. For example, in an age of difficult divorce, some people took their new partner's name to allow them the appearance of marriage, and any children the appearance of legitimacy....."

Deed of Change of Name - on wikipedia

Looking for Records of a Change of Name - on The National Archives

Records at The National Archives at Kew;

  • Supreme Court records (1903-2003) - Consult the enrolment books of the Supreme Court in J 18. Indexes to original and new names are available in the reading rooms for years up to and including 2001.
  • Close Rolls (1851-1903) - Consult the close rolls in C 54. Indexes to original names are available in the reading rooms.

(Content last reviewed 31 Aug 2011 - Gareth H)


The traditional method of land holding in Wales from the C12th on was based on the concept of the 'gwely', literally 'the bed'. The gwely consisted of persons descended in the male line from a common great grandfather, therefore it was made up of 4th generation male descendants. This 'gwely' was also the basic unit of land holding and ownership.

It is likely that 'gwely' lands were divided into small strips or plots as a result of the operation of Gavelkind.
These plots would be effectively held in trust by the different members of the 'gwely' - land so held was termed 'rhandir', or share land.
The latter term was commonly seen as applied to relatively small land holdings in the C17th

(Source reading for above notes; Myddfai:Its Land and Peoples by David B James, 1991)

' The History of Wales' by John Davies has an informative few pages (187/190) on the gwely and related land tenure matters.
Here is my attempt on a summary of a convoluted subject but a reading of the whole piece is recommended for full comprehension, really.

  • After the Conquest the Welsh had been allowed (or had been obliged) to continue to use the Law of Wales in matters relating to land tenure.
  • The Marcher Lords, like the King, could exploit the Law of Hywel for their own ends - above all they could take advantage of the gwely (clan land) system; as that system did not allow women to inherit land, the land of a man without male heirs escheated to his lord.
  • Furthermore the holder of gwely land could not sell it, and anyone who was of the 'condition of a Welshman' could not hold land in accordance with English tenure.
  • In the south there was a desire to continue with native traditions, but in the north the privileges enjoyed by English burgesses were a constant affront to the men of Gwynedd who regularly petitioned to abandon native law and custom. They were ignored and the Law of Hywel was fossilized.
  • The Gwynedd petitions can be interpreted as pleas for release from the restrictions of the gwely system. Cyfran, the custom of dividing land equally among male heirs was the essence of that system - possibly leading to a host of scattered strips of land, too small to be viable.
  • In the century after 1350 the gwely system collapsed under the presssure of native venturers and wealthy English burgesses and was replaced by consolidated farms and expanding landed estates.
  • The Black Death was among the most important factors contributing to the decline of the gwely system; escheats increased dramatically after 1349 giving ample opportunities for energetic men to lease land free from the restrictions of the gwely system. Also, the slump in the market and labour shortages from the high death rate among the taeogion (villeins) caused the Marcher Lords and the monastic houses to abandon direct farming thus providing opportunities for the bonheddwyr (gentlemen)to take leases n these lands. Some of the villein townships became virtually uninhabited and the scattered strips of their land were turned into consolidated farms.
  • Although gwely land was still common over much of Wales in 1400, by 1450 it was overwhelmed by factors such as tir prid, or Welsh mortage. This was a device to enable a typical gwely holder who was unable to sell his lands to raise cash. The mortgaged land after 16 years was considered to be in the absolute ownershp of the mortgagee.
  • It is claimed that it was the Welsh mortgage above all else which caused the final collapse of the gwely system.

See also Primogeniture

(Content last reviewed 19 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


The references in historical records/books to RSDs and USDs in the context of local authorities prompts this explanatory note;

The Public Health Acts of 1874/5 created new local authorities with responsibility for public health.

  • Urban areas such as towns/boroughs were to form Urban Sanitary Districts (USDs)
  • The remainder of the country was divided into Rural Sanitary Districts (RSDs) - these corresponded to the existing Poor Law Unions (excluding the USDs)

These names survived until 1894 when a new Act (Local Government Act - on wikipedia) created general purpose urban and rural districts within the framework of administrative counties.

(Content last reviewed 11 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)


The word 'hearers' is sometimes used in the specific context of nonconformist religious sects to distinguish communicant members of a church/chapel from those who attended informally and perhaps not regularly = hearers.

An explanation suggested as to the word's origin is ' no doubt it came from the scripture, James 1:22. "But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." '
This would tie into the idea that those who claim membership, but only attended for special events and didn't support the ministry or participate, aren't doers, just hearers

A whole congregation might also have been described as 'hearers' where there was no formal church yet in existence, as in some of the examples below.

Examples of usage;

"Membership peaked in 1907 when the churches of Wales had 750,000 communicants and a host of occasional 'hearers'.
(From BBC Wales - The Strength of Nonfoncormity)

"Taff's Well. ...... There is no school near, excepting a dame school about a mile off, and a small inferior Church school about a mile and a half off. I had a conference with some of the leading men of the place, and they seemed to think that a school is greatly wanted and that no school will do for the place but a British School, because all the inhabitants are members and hearers at the Dissenting Chapels"
(From The Journal of William Roberts ('Nefydd'), 1853-62 by E D Jones, National Library of Wales journal Vol IX/4 Winter 1956)

"In 1774, Evan Griffiths, pastor of Capel Seion Independent Church, compiled statistics of Dissenting 'hearers'. He names nineteen Independent churches, with a total of 6,340 'hearers', and ten Baptist churches with 1500."
(From A History of Carmarthenshire by Lloyd, Sir John E., (Ed.). 2 vols., 1935, 1939 )

The Lists of Dr John Evans (1714+) "...... the numbers of Dissenters in the various parishes as supplied by by Archdeacon Tenison in the Visitation of 1710.............when his numbers are added up, allowing them the most favourable interpretation by accepting the highest of his alternative figures, he is found to admit that there were over 1200 Nonconformists in his archdeaconry...............impossibilities begin...............It is next to impossible that the Independent cause at Llanddarog, definitely formed into a separate church in 1712-14, should have 500 hearers in 1715, more by 100 than either Panteg or Mynyddd Bach............"
(From A History of Carmarthenshire by Lloyd, Sir John E., (Ed.). 2 vols., 1935, 1939 )

"The Hope, Bridgend English Baptist chapel (Lower Coyty Hamlet) Erected in 1850 "The Chappel has only had three services in it previous to that it has been held in the Vestry Room. Average number of hearers is from 80 to 100." Thomas Lewis, Deacon, Brewer
(From Jones, I.G. & Williams, D. The Religious census of 1851 : A Calendar of the returns relating to Wales, Vol 1,South Wales. UWP, Cardiff, 1976 )

(Content last reviewed 6 Sept 2011 - Gareth H)