What a strange time! We are once again going into a lockdown period and the Winter season is nearing when very often many of us turn to researching our family history. Why not give it a go? Not sure where to start, read on.
5 steps to start your family history research
Step 1 –start with yourself noting any events, dates and places, working back to your parents and to previous generations as far as you can.
Step 2 – ask members of the family for their memories, make a note or record the information for future use.
Step 3 – look for evidence – certificates, photographs, newspaper cuttings etc, the attic is a good place to start.
Step 4 – organise the information you have collected so far, create a family tree on paper or electronically, there are plenty of free options online.
Step 5 – create a list of what needs further research, search the Library website to see what is available and for further help contact the Enquiries Service
If you have already done some research here are a few tips when researching further.
10 tips to move forward with your research
Remember to make a note of the resources you have searched, even if nothing was found, it will save duplicate the search in the future.
Read widely about the resources that are available and how to interpret the information.
Remember when using parish registers they record baptisms, marriages and burials and certificates record births, marriages and deaths.
When parish registers are difficult to read or parts missing, use bishop’s transcripts to fill the gaps if they have survived.
Can’t find members of your family in the parish registers, look in nearby nonconformist records.
When looking at the 1841 census remember that the age for those over 15 have been rounded down to the nearest 5 this helps when trying to search for a birth/baptism.
By the 1911 census a lot more information is asked including – how many years married, how many children born to the marriage and how many still alive.
When you come across a death it is always worth searching to see if a will was left.
Newspapers are always a great source of information about people, places and events especially when they can be searched online.
After searching the general resources, why not venture to search other collections such as estate, solicitors, manorial records, Great Sessions and a variety of other collections available through the Library website and catalogue.
The resources listed here may contain evidence regarding the existence of a building but will not necessarily date the original structure or subsequent alterations. Remember that houses could be rebuilt often on an adjoining site but using the same name or subsequent buildings on the same site were renamed or renumbered.
Home to the largest cartographic collection in Wales and one of the largest in Britain, the Library has a wide range of maps and plans to consult – Ordnance Survey maps, antiquarian maps, estate maps and sale catalogues and architectural drawings, tithe maps and apportionments. Digital images of the tithe maps and apportionments and more modern maps can be found on the Places of Wales website and most are available to search through the catalogue or on open access in the South Reading Room.
2 Census Returns and the 1939 Register
The Census taken every 10 years since 1841, except 1941, gives a snapshot of who was at a property at the time of the census. The 1911 census is the latest available; the 1939 Register can also be very useful as this provided information of inhabitants of properties at the beginning of WWII. Access to these are available free of charge within the Library through Findmypast and Ancestry.
3 Estate Records
A property may be easier to trace if it was part of an estate as records were drawn up for the administration of the estate – rentals, surveys, title deeds, mortgages, leases. To find if the Library holds any information a search of the catalogue should be made.
4 Printed works
Local history books, local directories, guide books and electoral registers that date back to the nineteenth century will give further clues of who lived in particular properties and used in conjunction with other documentary evidence can give you more information about the people who lived in a property. These can be found by searching our catalogue
The Library has a digitised collection of Welsh newspapers available free to view online up to 1919, there may well be mention of the occupants of or the history of a property amongst the pages as well as adverts and details of sales of property. To begin your search visit the website
These are only a few of the sources available to aid you in the search for the history of a house. For more information have a look at our information leaflet Sources for the History of Houses
This Saturday 12th May the fifth Family and Local History Fair will be held here at the Library. It will be a great opportunity for anyone with an interest in starting their journey to discovery their ancestors or perhaps to research the history of a house or area of importance to them. There will be something for everyone, including two enthusiastic speakers in their field of excellence – Dr Reg Davies, who maintains the Welsh Mariners website and Richard Suggett, an expert in old buildings who work for the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments – remember to book your free tickets.
There will be an opportunity to talk to experienced genealogists from the Library and the county Family History Societies, who will be able to give you advice. We have all probably inherited collections of photographs over the years, there will be a photo restorer on hand to give advice on how to store and restore your photographs.
The National Library of Wales is today launching a number of Peniarth Manuscripts in digital format: they are available here.
What is going on?
To mark the 350th anniversary of Robert Vaughan’s death in 2017, the Library began a piece-meal digitisation of all 560 manuscripts in the Peniarth collection. This is in tribute to the founder of the Hengwrt library, and an acknowledgement of the importance of this, the Library’s ‘foundation collection’.
In what order are your digitising the manuscripts?
To facilitate the work of scanning, the manuscripts are being digitised according to size, beginning with the smallest volumes. They will be scanned and released in batches. The first batch, released today (26 March 2018) include
(1) manuscripts previously captured as ‘treasures’ during the last few years
(2) new appearances by the smallest manuscripts (‘size A’) in the numerical range of 1-70.
Will I see hitherto unseen images, previously hidden on parchment leaves?
No. The manuscripts have been digitised to high resolution, ‘as they are’, without digital manipulation. Therefore, no ‘new’ discoveries have been made. Revealing techniques such as RTI digitisation depend on extra resources, which are unavailable in the Library at present. Readers of Peniarth manuscripts are thus warned that texts MAY be more legible in manipulated microfilm images in the Library Reading Room!
What is the digitisation timescale?
As no extra funding has been obtained for the work, manuscripts will be digitised as-and-when resources allow, i.e. around prioritised project work and funded requests. This means that we cannot give a time-frame for the delivery of the project, or for images of specific manuscripts to appear.
How will I know when a manuscript in which I am interested may become available?
Good question! Follow the order of releases, and a pattern may become apparent. You are also welcome to ‘lodge your interest’ by contacting the Library. We will endeavour to let you know when your manuscript is about to be published. However, you must give us your permission to log your personal data (including email address) when following this route.
Can I ‘jump the queue’, and ask you to digitise a specific manuscript out of sequence?
By all means ask. However, in fairness to other users, we will probably then ask you to pay for the digitisation of that manuscript! Best advice with this project is – ‘be patient, and your manuscript will eventually appear’.
Which manuscripts will you be digitising after the Peniarth collection?
Good news – we are unlikely to run out of manuscripts! The Llanstephan, Cwrtmawr, Bodewryd and other collections await their turns.
What else is happening to the Peniarth Manuscripts?
Many are being catalogued anew by Dr Daniel Huws for his forthcoming Repertory of Welsh Manuscripts and Scribes (due 2019-20). This new resource will make many of our online catalogue descriptions obsolete, and will necessitate a re-consideration of our metadata. In the meantime, our current catalogue descriptions are available here. You are welcome to contact us with new discoveries relating to the manuscripts, if they arise from your own research.
What else is happening with manuscripts at the Library?
Watch out for our Mostyn season in 2018, and for a series of new web-pages on the Library’s medieval manuscripts which will be published during the year. Keep watching our social media platforms for the latest news.
With the Library’s current exhibition Arthur and Welsh Mythology looking at Wales’ rich tradition of myths, legends and folklore, including the Welsh Arthurian tradition, now is perhaps an opportune moment to note that amongst the Library’s Welsh Print Collection is one of Wales’ largest collections of Arthurian literature and works on the Arthurian legend.
With its roots in early Welsh poems such as Y Gododdin, early Welsh tales such as Culhwch ac Olwen and Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Brittania, the Arthurian legend encompasses a variety of literary forms, including the chronicle, the romance, poetry and the novel, and a number of other artistic forms such as opera and film. The Arthurian legend and its mythos also give us an example of a truly Trans-European literary tradition (or transatlantic tradition if we include the Connecticut Arthur). Starting from its roots in Welsh poetry and folklore, Arthurian literature and legend spread across Europe, with English, French, Italian, German and Nordic influences, amongst others transforming, cross-fertilising and enriching the genre.
The Arthurian legend has also proved to be an especially durable and enduring literary tradition, from early Welsh poems and folk-tales through to the chivalrous romances of the medieval period, the Arthurian revival in the nineteenth century and the fantasy novels and historical fictions of the twentieth and twenty-first century. During this time the Arthurian legend has also been used for a variety of political and ideological purposes with the uses made of the legend to support both Welsh and Norman claims to the island of Britain during the medieval period just one example of how Arthur was used in this way.
The Library’s collection of printed works related to the Arthurian legend is as varied as its history. Comprising over 1,500 titles, the collection, dating from the early nineteenth century onwards, reflects its trans-European nature including works in Welsh, English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German and Norwegian. It also reflects the variety of literary forms with works ranging from early Welsh poems and tales, the chivalric poems and tales of the medieval period through to the novels of John Steinbeck, T. H. White, Bernard Cornwell and Rosemary Sutcliffe alongside the Monty Python and the Holy Grail screenplay. The collection also includes a large number of academic works on the Arthurian legend and Arthurian Literature.
So if you have an interest in Arthurian literature, Arthurian legend or the mythology of ancient Britain or are visiting the exhibition and want to learn more, why not take a moment to explore the collection through the Library catalogue.
This week saw the 20th anniversary of the Welsh referendum that paved way for the creation of the National Assembly for Wales. I decided to see what I could discover about this historic occasion within the Library’s various online subscriptions. (*To access these resources from outside the Library building you will have to use your reader’s ticket. If you haven’t got a reader’s ticket you can register very easily here).
Whilst support for devolution was low during the first referendum in 1979, the ensuing political and economic landscape over the next decade and a half led to increased calls for a second referendum. As a result, the Labour party included proposals for a second referendum in their 1992 manifesto, and after their landslide victory in the 1997 general election, these were set in motion.
The Referenda (Scotland and Wales) Act asked voters if they were in favour of devolution for Scotland and Wales. Many commentators analysed what devolution would mean for the future of the United Kingdom, as can be seen in this article from ‘The World Today’:
The referendum was held on the 18th of September 1997, and unlike the referendum in 1979, the result was extremely close. In fact, the votes were so close, the result hung on the announcement from Carmarthenshire. As the result came in, there were wild celebrations amongst the Yes campaigners as devolution was secured by a margin of 6,721 votes.
The Guardian reports for the days after both Welsh referenda can be seen here and here:
As a result of this narrow victory, the Government of Wales Act 1998 was passed by the Labour government to create a National Assembly for Wales:
There was a concern that the low voter turnout meant that voters were apathetic towards the notion of a national assembly, however this study by Roger Scully, Richard Wyn Jones and Dafydd Trystan concludes that this was not the case:
Following such a momentous change to the country’s political landscape, and following further referendums in 2006 and 2011, it’s only natural that commentators and scholars have sought to discuss and evaluate the impact of devolution on various aspects of life in Wales:
Are you fed up with late or cancelled trains? And how often does that happen exactly? There are a number of interesting sets of statistics available on Statista(*To access Statista from outside the Library building you will have to use your reader’s ticket. If you haven’t got a reader’s ticket you can register very easily here. After choosing Statista click on Login and then scroll down to Campus access and choose National Library of Wales to log in for the first time).
You can see how Arriva Trains Wales are doing in keeping to their schedules:
The National Library of Wales has by now been buying access to e-resources for more than fifteen years. One of the earliest we offered was Early English Books Online which, despite the name, also includes every Welsh book from Yny lhyvyr hwnn in 1546 until the end of the seventeenth century.
Newspaper collections are popular with readers who undertake research on history, society, family history and many other subjects. The titles which the Library has access to include Y Faner, The Guardian, The Daily Mail and The Times.
Another popular resource is JSTOR which includes runs of scholarly periodicals on all sorts of subjects.
One of the considerations when offering resources such as these to users is that there should be enough variety in terms of subjects and interest level. Some of the resources such as CREDO and Encylopaedia Britannica offer general knowledge which is suitable for many people. Others such as British Standards Online offer specialist information for people involved in business, building, industry, local and central government. Statista is a similar resource which offers a variety of international statistics in different sectors. It is important that the Library offers remote access to as many of these resources as possible so that they reach a higher percentage of Wales’ population. These resources are not cheap and restricting their access to the population Wales enables them to be affordable. Despite this, there are some resources that are only available within the Library building. These include Ancestry and Find My Past.
It is important that these resources are used, so if you have any questions or suggestions do not be afraid to contact us.
Aberystwyth’s geographical location poses a challenge for some who wish to access our collections, so the availability of a high quality Enquiries Service for those who wish to contact us remotely is essential. As the Library’s Enquiries Service manager I take pride in the fact that the team and I offer a valuable pathway to users, who may come from the other side of the World or from just down the road in Aberystwyth, and who wish to discover information about our collections and the incredible wealth of knowledge that can be found in our collections.
The enquiries team is the backbone of the service and they answer three quarters of all enquires sent to the Library. There is a wealth of knowledge amidst the team – amongst them there are experts on archives, manuscripts, maps, photographs and newspapers – and between them there is a total of 140 years of experience.
In a month, we receive an average of 350 enquiries, relating to a range of subjects such as family history, local history, biographical information and also requests for images for commercial use. The Service can provide these copies, in several formats, and license them for commercial use, as well as providing copies to researchers for personal use.
We receive enquiries from all corners of the World, many come from Wales and the rest of the British Isles, but we often receive enquiries from Europe, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, China, Japan, Iran, Iraq, Egypt and Brazil. We’ve even received an enquiry from Alaska! We were contacted by a family who were trapped in their house for a week because of heavy snow and who had decided to send an enquiry about our collections to pass the time! We really are a point of contact between the Library and the World.
Libraries gave us power, sang the Manic Street Preachers, but what really happens behind the bookshelves at Wales’ own cultural powerhouse, the National Library of Wales?
From novelists to genealogists, PhD students and poets, we spoke to some of the many and varied readers of the National Library of Wales to find out what they are up to behind the bookshelves.
Ifor ap Glyn, National Poet of Wales and television producer, director and presenter.
“I’m currently working on a book which is based on a unique resource held at the National Library of Wales; the world’s most extensive collection of letters in Welsh, written from the first part of the First World War.
There is a fascinating collection of 60-odd letters written by Captain Dafydd Jones from Carmarthenshire who was killed in Mametz Wood.
The book I’m writing is part factual, historical and part personal response and travelogue, as I am visiting all the places Captain Jones visited and describes in his letters, beginning at a hotel in Rhyl, one of the places where Welsh battalions were raised and trained. His first letters see him apologising to his parents for leaving his degree in Aberystwyth University to join the Army, but it’s what most of his contemporaries did at the time. I’m about halfway through the journey and the second leg will be the journey to the Somme. Researching the locations is not a completely straightforward task as censorship of letters meant many of the exact locations have been taken out.
“I first came across the collection of letters when I was working on a programme for S4C in 2008 called ‘Lleisiau o’r rhyfel mawr’ or ‘Voices of the Great War” and saw that these letters were one of the most comprehensive collections of the era.
“Researching and visiting the National Library in Aberystwyth is always interesting, and I’ve done lots of work there in the past using the screen archive when I researched the first Welsh language film Y Chwarelwr (The Quarryman). However I have to say since digitisation and resources there recently being made available online, it has made the access process far easier. Not only does it mean I don’t always have to travel down from Caernarfon, the wordsearch facility means I don’t have to physically trawl through hundreds of copies of the Carmarthen Journal held there to find Caption Jones’ name, that would be hugely time consuming.”
A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.
Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.