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Research Family History: Family History Sources

Where to start

Start with your own records, certificates, photographs, diary entries or newspaper cuttings, notes in a family bible or on the back of a wedding photograph.  Add recollections from older family members, ask them for wider information, not just about your family.  This should establish a starting point for your search at the Record Office. 

You should search systematically backwards, generation by generation, obtaining documents for each step you take. The first documents to obtain, will be birth, marriage and death certificates for England and Wales which date from 1st July 1837, held at the General Register Office or with the registrars in Powys.

Consult House History sources in the tab on this page. 

Purchase a general publication on Family History and join the Powys Family History Society and Montgomeryshire Genealogical Society if your family came from the old counties of:

  • Brecknock,
  • Montgomery,
  • Radnor. 

(your library may be able to advise you),

Remember that time spent in understanding what records are available and where they are held is not time wasted.

When you get back as far as 1901, you can also use the census returns.


Census returns, parish registers, IGI, tithe maps

We now hold microfiche copies of census returns from 1841- 1901 for Breconshire, Montgomeryshire and Radnorshire, and also various census indexes.  Consult Local Studies Sheet No. 8 Census Returns, 1841-1901.

We now have microfilm copies of most parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials for Powys (an index is available for reference) and copies of all the tithe maps and schedules (c1830-1840s) for Powys. Please see Local Studies Notes  I-3/8-9, in this series for further information.

We also have microfiche copies of the IGI (International Genealogical Index),  an index of births/baptisms and marriages, covering England, Wales, Scotland and Canada.  The IGI is now also available on the internet at



The Powys Area Libraries have incomplete runs of local newspapers, which nevertheless, can contain invaluable information for local historians and genealogists. 

Useful information can be obtained from advertisements, obituaries, market prices, situations vacant, etc.  Early newspapers give comprehensive coverage of sporting events, political meetings, concerts, chapel anniversaries, etc.

Newspaper reports can simplify and explain the concise and formal official records such as:

  • Council minutes,
  • Board of Guardian minutes,

They can sometimes be uninformative, journalists (reporting on the other hand) can put flesh on the bones of local controversies and can add much needed detail to our understanding  of local affairs. 

See Local Newspapers and Local Newspaper Index.


Directories town guides and other printed matter

Trade directories  and professional directories, can be useful as they contain concise lists of persons of the same surname - particularly since 1850.  If any of your ancestors were gentry, farmers, tradesmen, shopkeepers or professionals they may well occur in directories, such as Kelly's, some of these will be held at Area Libraries, and at the Archives Office. 

Professional directories will rarely be found in your library, and you may have to use reference and national libraries.   Town Guides are held by the Area Libraries and the Archives Office.  See Local Studies Notes 4-5.

See Trade and Other Directories


Registers of electors and poll-books

Electoral registers have been compiled since 1832 in all Welsh and English counties, but the official holdings at the Archives Office, which range from 1836 to 1998, have many gaps - a result of decades of neglect and misguided destruction. 

Early registers can be disappointing: the franchise in boroughs before 1867 and the rural areas before 1884 was very restricted - most voters were the better off in society.  Remember also that women did not gain the vote until 1918 and equal voting rights only in 1928.



Before 1858 wills were proven in church courts, usually either the diocesan court or the Prerogative court of Canterbury which cover Wales.  Most  of Powys lay in the dioceses of St Asaph, Bangor and St David's and the wills are to be found at the National Library of Wales.  Obtain a copy of their free leaflet Probate Records in The National Library of Wales.  Some parishes lay in Hereford diocese and you must contact the Herefordshire Record Office.  The Will Index for the Archdeaconry of Brecon 1575 - 1858 is held on microfiche at the CAO and is useful for establishing names.  Some wills survive at the CAO as originals or in photocopy form.  A card index is available at the CAO.

From 1858 wills have been proved at secular district probate registries.  For Montgomeryshire wills searchers should contact the Shropshire Records Office, and for Breconshire and Radnorshire searchers should contact the Herefordshire Record Office.  Both offices have compiled indexes to the will volumes. 

You are able to search wills and letters of administration for England and Wales from 11th January 1858 from the Principal Probate Registry of the Family Division.

Postal Address:  Principal Probate Registry of the Family Division, First Avenue House, 42-49 High Holborn, London, WC1V 6NP.


Other sources

Almost any record which gives names and personal details can help you.  Deeds and estate records can be particularly rich sources, but be prepared to spend a little time on the task.  We have compiled a list of these, some of them detailed, but there is no complete personal-name index.  However, you may be able to locate particular persons or families through the place-name index. 

We also hold a large number of school records.  Generally speaking, if a school in Powys has closed some records (log-books, admissions registers, etc.) should survive at the Archives Office, although some have strayed from official custody and some apparently have been destroyed. 

Admissions registers are particularly useful and some of these have been indexed.  Indexes are available for reference at the Archives Office.  Other useful sources will include Poor Law records (Board of Guardian minutes) and Graveyard/Monumental Inscriptions compiled by the local Family History Societies. (Lists are available at the Archives Office).

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