Research family history

image of school room from the past

We offer hour long, one-to-one sessions for people interested in family or local history. We’ll show you how to use websites like and to search records. The sessions are held at Powys Archives, Llandrindod Wells and cost £10. 

Please use the form to book a session.

Archives office location & opening hours

If you would like us to search our records for you, please apply via our Research Service

Use these links to find information on parish registers for Breconshire, Montgomeryshire and Radnorshire, and Nonconformist records.

We can copy documents for you.

Did you know: You can buy gift vouchers for our family and local history sessions. Contact us using the form on this page for details. 

Book a session

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 (your library may be able to advise you), and join the Powys Family History Society and Montgomeryshire Genealogical Society if your family came from the old counties of Brecknock, Montgomery and Radnor.  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.

We can undertake research on your behalf.

We can copy documents for you.

You can request family history certificates.

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:  Council minutes, Board of Guardian minutes, etc., 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.

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 and Trade and Other Directories by Title

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. Alternatively wills and letters of administration for England and Wales from 11 Jan 1858 are available from the Principal Probate Registry of the Family Division, First Avenue House, 42-49 High Holborn, London, WC1V 6NP

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)

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 can 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 a 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.

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.

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, and 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.

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, and can assist in house enquiries should the Libraries and CAO be unable to do so.