Although Wales is often regarded as a predominantly Nonconformist country, the truth is that well into the 19th century only a minority of the population owed allegiance to any dissenting body. Even if a family withdrew from the Anglican Church and joined a Nonconformist congregation, it did not necessarily break all connection with the parish church. Nonconformist chapels, particularly in rural areas, were not always licensed for marriages, and often had no burial grounds.
Genealogists are indebted therefore to the Anglican Church for the classes of records in The National Library of Wales which are most valuable to them as sources.
Those classes of records are described here under the following headings:
- Registers of baptisms, marriages and burials
- Bishops' transcripts
- Marriage bonds
- Other diocesan records
Registers of baptisms, marriages and burials
The order to keep a register of every baptism, marriage, and burial in every parish was made on 5 September 1538. Although starting dates vary greatly, the earliest surviving registers of most Welsh parishes do not begin until after 1660, often well afterwards.
Nearly all the parishes in Wales have deposited their registers (apart from volumes containing recent entries) either at The National Library of Wales or at one of the county record offices. Details of where the registers have been deposited, and of the periods covered by them, are given in C J Williams and J Watts-Williams, Cofrestri Plwyf Cymru/Parish Registers of Wales (Aberystwyth: National Library of Wales and Welsh County Archivists' Group in association with the Society of Genealogists, 2nd edition, 2000).
For the history and further details of parish registers in general, see D J Steel, National Index of Parish Registers, I, General Sources of Births, Marriages and Deaths before 1837 (London: Society of Genealogists, 1968); and, of the parish registers of Wales in particular, the article by R W McDonald in The National Library of Wales Journal, xix, 113-131 (in Welsh) and 399-429 (in English).
Much work has been, and is being, done in the transcription and indexing of parish registers, especially by the various family history societies, from whom may be obtained the latest details of projects completed, in progress, or at the planning stage.
The registers of some 500 parishes are at the Library. For reasons of conservation they are available for consultation only as microfilm copies.
To see the parish registers you should go to the South Reading Room.
Bishops' transcripts are the annual returns submitted by Anglican churches to the bishops containing copies of all the entries recorded in their parish registers during the preceding 12 months. Although transcripts were ordered to be sent annually from 1597 onwards, there are no transcripts before 1661 in the records of the Church in Wales that have been deposited in the Library.
Even after this date there are many gaps in the returns, only a few transcripts before 1723 being extant for the parishes in the diocese of Llandaff, and hardly any for the 18th century for the parishes in the archdeaconries of Cardigan and St David's. The transcripts cease at dates varying from parish to parish during the middle or late 19th century, although there are a few examples from the early 20th century for some parishes.
Transcripts of marriage entries normally cease with the introduction of civil registration in 1837.
Details of the bishops' transcripts for all parishes in Wales are given in Cofrestri Plwyf Cymru/Parish Registers of Wales.
To see the bishops' transcripts you should go to the South Reading Room.
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 pre-1838 bonds and allegations in the Library have been indexed and is available online. The index is also searchable in hard copies in the South Reading Room.
To see the marriage bonds you should go to the South Reading Room.
Other diocesan records
These records may contain much information relating to certain sections of the community, particularly the clergy, the most fruitful sources being ordination papers and clergy visitation books. The names of churchwardens are also often recorded, while interesting details may be found in the consistory court papers concerning the people who appeared before them, often in connection with the proving of wills.
The catalogues of the diocesan records are searchable on our website and alsoavailable in the South Reading Room.
To see the diocesan records you should go to the South Reading Room.
Access to materials
You can search for materials from our collections on our online catalogue. You will however need a valid reader’s ticket to order material for viewing in our Reading Rooms.