Finding your family

Our guide to family research

Photo courtesy of Cardigan 2010 History Collection

Photo courtesy of Cardigan 2010 History Collection

If you are trying to find ancestors who lived in Ceredigion here are some tips that may help you in your search.

If you have traced your family back to a Welsh emigrant, then your next task must be to determine the parish he or she was from. You can do this by considering what you know already. Do you know the names of your grandparents or great grandparents? Think about any stories that have been handed down through the family, are there tales of shopkeepers, seafarers or even pirates? Talk to other family members and find out what they know to help you put the jigsaw together. Do you have any documents, photographs or other memorabilia that will help you? Other relatives or a library may have documents naming the place, parish, city or county, for example, birth marriage and death certificates, photographs, letters, family bibles, naturalisation applications and petitions or family heirlooms, to name but a few.


Fortunately a lot of information can now be accessed on the internet. You can look up your ancestors on the census for England and Wales. Start with 1911 and work back every 10 years until 1841. The census can be accessed via and Both these sites require payment but, if you are in the UK, you may be able to access them free at your local library. Information on the census can give a snapshot of your family every decade from 1841 to 1911. It will tell you, depending on the date, who the other family members are, their ages and where they were born as well as their occupation and current abode.

Photo courtesy Cardigan 2010 history collection

Photo courtesy Cardigan 2010 history collection

Problems can arise if you are looking for a seaman on a census return because many men would have been absent from home on the night the census was taken. You may be able to trace their families if you have certain facts, for example where the head of the household is recorded as Master Mariner’s Wife or Seaman’s Wife the seafaring husband might be identified. Some seamen, who were absent from home on the census night might have been on board a vessel moored in any one of the many harbours in the British Isles. If his ship was in an English or Welsh harbour then a search in the census of 1851 and later, should find him. One of the advantages of searching the census online is that you can search for a person by name only anywhere in England or Wales.

Births, marriages and deaths

If your ancestor emigrated from the UK after 1st July 1837, you may find the place of origin by using the nationwide indexes to births, marriages and deaths. You can search the indexes for birth, marriages and deaths at This site is free to search but you will have to pay for any certificates that you might want to order.

Parish register

When you have established your ancestor’s place of origin you can look for them in parish registers. These can be viewed at or the

Photo courtesy Cardigan 2010 history collection

Photo courtesy Cardigan 2010 history collection

International Genealogical Index at which has a log of other useful resources. The information on this site is free to access.

Crime and punishment

The National Library of Wales,, has a wealth of information regarding Welsh history and genealogy. Some of it is available online, for example, the Crime and Punishment database. This comprises data about crimes, criminals and punishments included in the gaol files of the Court of Great Sessions in Wales from 1730 until its abolition in 1830. The Court could try all types of crimes, from petty thefts to high treason. In practice, most of the petty crimes were heard at the Courts of Quarter Sessions, whose records are held by the Welsh county record offices. Details about these records can be searched at Archive Network Wales


Probate records, wills, inventories and other administrative documents can provide very useful information. The National Library has an index to Wills which were proved in the Welsh ecclesiastical courts before the introduction of Civil Probate on 11th January 1858. Probate records may mention emigrant relatives. Until 1858 probates of persons dying overseas who owned property in Wales should have been proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. There is a small charge to download these wills from the National Archives website or at the Principal Probate Registry (after 1857). More information about wills after 1857 can be found at


If you want to find evidence of your ancestors’ arrival in a country outside the UK a useful starting point would be to read the brief guide available on the National Archives website. This will tell you where you can find record of someone who emigrated from Britain. At you can view lists of passengers leaving from UK and Irish ports and travelling to places such as the USA, Canada, India, New Zealand and Australia. These passenger lists are rare before 1890, after this date they are arranged chronologically by port of departure. When they are available they usually give the emigrant’s name, age, occupation, address and sometimes destination. You can also search the Immigrant Ancestors Project for information about the birthplaces of immigrants at

Those who applied for assistance to emigrate were recorded in assisted emigrants’ registers, which often contain name, age, occupation, residence, destination, name of sponsor, address of relative and size of family. Records of emigrants who received assistance to emigrate from their parish or landlord can be found in parish records (not registers) and estate records.

Local sources

You may find it useful to contact a family history society as they have local resources available as well as members with local knowledge. The parish or community in which you are interested may have its own website. Local records offices and libraries can also prove a valuable source of information.

When you have exhausted the information available online you may like to consider ‘coming home’ to the land of your ancestors to visit and explore their lives. Or you might like to employ a professional genealogist who can continue to research for you in local archives. The National Library of Wales has a list of independent researchers.

Good luck!

Tina Webb, Hound Dog Research

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