Research Family History: House History Sources
It is important to emphasise at the outset that the task of tracing the history of a house is not at all an easy one. You may not find straightforward answers to your questions We can usually direct you towards likely sources and sometimes we can tell you whether there are useful printed histories (Libraries), deeds and plans (Archives) or photographs (Museums), for example, but often these sources give an incomplete picture. You can sometimes discover a great deal about the occupancy of your house by adopting the methods of a family historian. For this consult Family History Sources.
Where to start
Start at your house - take a close look at it, at its design and architectural features, and take photographs and make a plan. Make a note of its materials (mass produced bricks such as Ruabon Bricks often arrived with the railway), the size and shape of the windows etc, and also of any date stones or inscriptions. This can help in working out the way in which a house may have changed shape. Check your deeds. These may be with your solicitor or building society. If you have an old house your deeds can sometimes tell you a great deal about previous owners and occupiers, and occasionally about any important changes to the house or house-plot. Find out from older neighbours what they know about your house and make a note, any earlier names, and the ancient parish in which it lies.
Land Valuation Registrars
If your house existed in 1910 then it should be recorded in the Doomsday Books drawn up under the Finance Act 1910 (at the County Archives Office). These will tell you the names of the owner and occupier, the acreage (if relevant) of your house-plot (hereditament) and details used in the assessment of tax. The hereditament number corresponds to the marked up Ordinance Survey 25" scale maps at the CAO, but the map series is incomplete. All the maps for Breconshire seem to have been lost, and there are gaps in the series for Montgomeryshire and Radnorshire. Some of the gaps in Radnorshire are filled, however, by a series of 6" scale OS maps in the CAO. A full set of the 25" maps and the master series of Finance Act books are held at the Public Record Office, Kew.
You may wish to check any older editions of maps at the CAO. The CAO holds a full set of the OS 2" working drawings for Powys c1817 - 1830, the OS 1" sheets, and most of the OS 6" and 25" sheets.
Tithe Maps: Nearly every parish in Powys has a tithe map and apportionment drawn up under the Tithe Commutation Act 1836. (See our maps section for more information) The CAO has copies of tithe maps found in diocesan records, obtained from The National Library of Wales. A list of those at the Public Record Office can be consulted at the CAO. In the case of a number of border parishes in Hereford diocese, the original tithe maps reside in the Herefordshire Record Office. Do not expect too much from tithe maps and apportionments. They are probably of more use in rural areas rather than in towns, and properties that did not pay tithes are omitted. Sometimes a tithe map does not exist, because the tithes had already been commuted to fixed money payments before the 1836 Act. At their best tithe maps can tell you the names of owners and occupiers, the name of the property (if any), the amount of the tithe payable, acreages, sometimes land use (arable, pasture, meadow etc), and field-names. You should also bear in mind that spellings are sometimes erratic and both Welsh and English names can be misspelt.
Registers of Electors
These survive for all three of the old counties of Brecknock, Radnor, and Montgomery. There is a summary of these holdings at the CAO in the Gibson Guide. Regrettably, there are large gaps in the Montgomeryshire series.
Use the maps and registers of electors in combination with printed trades and local directories (such as Kelly's) and guide-books and you may be able to piece together a list of owners and/or occupiers for your house. If sale particulars survive (at your Library, Museum and the CAO) they can add considerably to your knowledge.
The CAO holds microfiche copies of the census returns from 1841-1891 for Breconshire, Montgomeryshire and Radnorshire, and various census indexes. For details of census holdings in Powys consult Local Studies Sheet No. 8: Census Returns, 1841-1901.
Using the returns is not always an easy matter because the enumerators districts did not always correspond neatly with modern local authority boundaries. It can be very difficult identifying individual buildings from the lists of occupants, particularly in towns.
The CAO has parish registers on microfilm for virtually the whole of Powys, including many border parishes. Consult Parish Registers of Wales edited by Williams & Watts-Williams, available for reference at the CAO. Rate assessment records can tell you the names of occupiers of particular properties and specify the amount assessed for particular rates such as highway rate and poor rate. Where rate books survive, and many do, particularly for Breconshire, they are held at the CAO and NLW.
Deeds and estate records
It is worth checking with the CAO to see whether they hold deeds or estate records for your property. You should also check with the NLW which holds a considerable amount of such material for the whole of Wales. Deeds can prove to be very difficult for the beginner even when their contents have been summarised in the catalogues at the CAO. You should be prepared to spend time in learning the palaeography and a little about conveyancing and in examining each document carefully.
Other useful sources will include rentals (lists of tenants on an estate with particulars of rent due), surveys (sometimes with maps), abstracts of title (lists of deeds relating to particular properties) and wills (which were often used to prove title when other deeds such as leases, mortgages, and bargains and sales did not exist). The CAO has card indexes specifying properties for which deeds are held and the names for which wills are held.
Many wills will be found with the title deeds or in the form of photocopies at the CAO and there is a complete card index of these according to surname. When these have inventories they can prove very useful in identifying individual rooms in a particular house. See Local Studies Sheet No. 15 Family History Sources for more information on locating wills.
The Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, (RCAHM) is custodian of the National Monuments Record. It can assist in house enquiries should the Libraries and CAO be unable to do so.