WLScountiesAfter the death of Llywelyn in 1282, the Principality of Wales came under the control of Edward I of England. The Statute of Rhuddlan (1284) created the administrative areas that became the counties of Anglesey [AGY], Caernarvonshire [CAE], Cardiganshire [CGN], Carmarthenshire [CMN], Flintshire [FLN] and Merionethshire [MER]. The rest of what is now Wales remained outside the King's immediate authority in the hands of his Marcher lords he appointed to guard the border (known as the Welsh marshes) between England and Wales. They had complete jurisdiction over their subjects, without referral to the king who only had jurisdiction in treason cases, although the lords had personal allegiance to the king as his feudal subjects. The result of this era is the fact that the Welsh Marches contain Britain's greatest concentration of castles.

Acts of Parliament drawn up by Thomas Cromwell, secretary to Henry VIII, and passed in 1536 and 1543 formed the Act of Union of of England and Wales. They fundamentally altered the way in which Wales was governed.

As part of the reorganisation of the country the remaining Marcher lordships, most of which were already in the King's hands, were abolished and formed into the counties of Breconshire [BRE], Denbighshire [DEN], Glamorganshire [GLA], Montgomeryshire [MGY], Pembrokeshire [PEM], Radnorshire [RAD] and Monmouthshire [MON].

The county structure for Wales changed in 1974. The place codes used for Wales are known as Chapman Codes after their innovator, Colin Chapman.  These are used by family historians to identify the counties of Wales prior to 1974.

When seeking information about ancestors, a knowledge of where they lived is paramount to locating records. When researching regions before the start of civil registration this becomes even more significant as the records were generated at the local level. Knowing where the family lived will point you towards the appropriate repositories.

A surprising number of boundaries and borders have changed over the generations and the region the particular place is located in today could be entirely different. This may mean the records sought could be located in unexpected places and therefore a good understanding of borders and boundaries is important.

Apart from boundaries created by civil jurisdictions, a knowledge of the boundaries of ecclesiastical authorities is also significant. This is particularly so in the era prior to the introduction of civil registration when the Established Church maintained what we today would consider a civil function.

Genuki logoGENUKI (Genealogy UK and Ireland) is a major free resource of information for family history researchers. For detailed information on individual Welsh counties go to GENUKI Welsh pages.

Towns, cities, boroughs etc with county status with monarch who created status— all surviving to 1974 were abolished.

Town, city, borough Monarch
Co town
Town of Carmarthen  James I
Town of Haverfordwest  Richard III

There have been many minor changes to county boundaries over the years. In some cases these have been to address detached pieces of one county being entirely surrounded by another and most have been where the boundary passes through parishes. The region along the border with England also historically demonstrated these anomalies. Such changes have taken place ad hoc over many years.
In addition to the shifting boundaries described above, most of the larger towns and cities were at various times granted county status and as such functioned independently of the county in which it was located. This system accelerated in 1888, when all towns and cities with populations in excess of 50,000 were granted this status.

County borough
County borough
Merthyr Tydfil

For more details on researching your Welsh ancestors you are referred to a booklet written for Australian researchers. It can be purchased for $12 including postage within Australia. You can select to pay by PayPal or Direct Debit. Send an email to the address below with your name, postal address and book title. You will receive via return email payment instructions.
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