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Elderly couple (1900's)

Family history

If you are interested in researching your family history, this section will give you some hints and tips in how to get started. When you first walk into your local library or records office, you might find the whole experience confusing as people around you talk about St. Catherine’s Index, the IGI, the census and finding their relatives in the military records. Slow down and take a deep breath, everyone has to start somewhere.

Tip One - First steps

Before skipping off to your local library or record office, you will need some basic information to work with. Sit down and think about what you know. Write down the names of your immediate family - start with yourself, your spouse, your children, brothers, sisters and parents. What do you know without any research?

In most cases, you won’t need any certificates at this point, you already know these facts. If you can’t remember these facts, you can guarantee that another member of your family will.

Tip Two - Speak to your family

Family members can be useful resources when researching your family history. Older members will remember people and events that perhaps you will never have heard of. Be patient, write down any facts that they give you; these can be verified in the course of your research. But do remember- not all family stories are completely true, and not everyone’s memory is perfect!

Ask for any birth, death or marriage certificates that they have and are willing to part with - this will help you when you start to research. They might also have photographs, letters or addresses of other family members. These will all help you in your research to gain a fuller picture into the lives of your ancestors.

Tip Three - Brave the cobwebs

Hunt down any birth, death and marriage certificates that you can find. You might not need them straight away, but you will find that they can provide useful information to help you start. For example, the birth certificates of your parents will also give you the maiden names of your grandmothers. Not much, but a start!

Tip Four - Record everything

Have a file (either on the computer or in a paper format) to keep all your information in. Keep separate notes on each family member that can be added to when you receive more information. Keep a diary or a workbook and write down any information you discover and what source it came from. This information might help you when you are stuck in the future.

Tip Five - Start a family chart

Once you have some basic information, you can start a family chart. Many people use online tools (for example - - there is a fee for using this website) or CD-ROMs that will build the chart for you after you have entered your basic information. You do not need to use these tools, pen and paper work just as well.

Start by writing down yourself and then work backwards. As you find out more names and information, you might find it easier to keep different sections of your family on different charts. Another good idea is to keep two copies of your tree, one to work on and one that is accurate. Only record on the accurate one when you are sure that all the facts are correct.

Tip Six - A word of caution

Prepare for some surprises and skeletons in your family cupboards. People who start researching their family history sometimes uncover facts that they would rather not have found out. For example, it is possible that strait-laced Great Aunt Mabel was not married to Great Uncle Fred until after the birth of their first child. For some people, finding out these sorts of facts makes their research all the more interesting. Our advice, be prepared and it might come as less of a shock.

Tip Seven - Where to look

In Wales, the main centre for looking up records is the National Library at Aberystwyth - But you may need to visit the area where your ancestors lived to find the information you need.

Bargoed Library is the main centre for Family History research in the county borough. The Library holds local census returns for the years 1841-1901 and the Civil Registration Indexes for the years 1837-2002 - which includes births, marriages and deaths. Other resources include local parish registers on microfiche, monumental inscriptions, tithe maps and historical Ordnance Survey maps. A number of pre-1950 local newspapers are also available on microfilm and these include the South Wales Echo and Merthyr Express. A full list of resources can be obtained at Bargoed Library where staff are happy to provide assistance to customers carrying out their Family History research. The Library has a number of microfiche/microfilm machines available with copying facilities, (Bookable in advance.)

Some of the main information sources you'll need to consult are:

Civil Registrations (or General Register Office indexes)
Indexes of all births, marriages and deaths since 1837 to the present day are also available in most county record offices, some libraries, or at the Family Record Centre, Myddelton Street, London EC1R 1UW. You can get copies of certificates from the register office where the event took place, or the General Register Office in Southport.

Parish registers and Non-Conformist Registers
Ministers and clergy were required to record details of baptisms, christenings, marriages and burials from 1538. Not all survive, but look in the local county records office; or the National Library of Wales, while many of these records have been transcribed by members of the local family history societies.

Census returns
A national census has taken place every 10 years since 1801 (apart from 1941), with returns containing more details since 1841. The records are closed by law for 100 years, so the best place to start might be the 1901 census, which can be searched via surname or address. People researching their family history may be granted special dispensation to look at relevant records in the 1911 census. The next census to be indexed by surname is the 1881, and the 1891 and 1851 census details have often been indexed by county family history societies.

The International Genealogical Index (IGI)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) promotes family history research as part of their faith, and has birth and marriage entries from sources around the world. The IGI can be searched at most county record offices, and libraries, and also at the family history research centres attached to most LDS churches.

Other sources

Also try monumental inscription indexes (information from gravestones and church and chapel plaques), school records, war service records, shipping reports, old trade directories, court records and criminal registers, electoral registers, and proved wills. And then there are always newspapers, deeds, land taxes, tithe maps, pensions, poor law records and lots more to keep you busy! See below for other sources;

Chapel Records and Catholic Registers
These records are less consistent and often do not date as far back. The Public Records Office has custody of the surviving records up to 1837. Catholic Registers after 1837 are kept by the Priest-in Charge of each local church. To locate and use these registers, contact:

Archbishop’s House
41-43 Cathedral Road

Wills made before 1858 are known as PCC wills or Probate Court of Canterbury wills. These documents can be found at the National Library of Wales or the Public Records Office, whilst County Record Offices hold directories known as probate indexes giving information on wills made after 1858.

Shipping Reports
If your Welsh ancestors emigrated to America, the likelihood is that they landed at Ellis Island, New York. 22 million people passed through the port between 1892 and 1924 and you can check the passenger lists online at

County Records Office
The County Records Office holds Parish Registers, copies of the census for the county, School Records and Local Authority Records. Although County Records Offices have only been operational since 1939, they often hold information pre-dating this.

The Glamorgan Records Office
Glamorgan Building
King Edward VII Avenue
Cathays Park
CF10 3NE

(029) 2078 0282

Gwent Records Office
County Hall
NP44 2XH

(01633) 644 886

Other useful websites - A very popular site which holds information on libraries and archives and family history societies as well as online census information and trade directories and gazetteers. Covers every county in the UK. - A US based site covering the whole world. Cyndi’s List hosts mailing lists where you can ask for help and advice or exchange information. - The Commonwealth War Graves Commission. This site, which includes the Debt of Honour Register, provides personal and service details as well as information on places of commemoration for those who died in the service of the Commonwealth forces. - Federation of Family History Societies - Society of Genealogists - The British Library - Ministry of Defence: Service Records - Find living friends or relatives in the UK for a £15 fee - Answers Investigation. A free tracing service

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