Surname search

The search for one's roots is not a fashionable new pastime in Wales; it has always been popular.

Writing in 1899, J Gwenogvryn Evans said:
"A considerable section of the community takes the most astonishing interest in the subject of pedigrees... The writer has found it difficult to swallow his soup with grace as he listens to "a descendant of Rhodri Mawr" wondering if there was no way of recovering some of the family estate, which was so extensive in the year 946."

Six centuries earlier, the half-Norman, half-Welsh Gerald Cambrensis wrote:
"...Even the common people retain their genealogy, and can, not only readily recount the names of grandfathers and great-grandfathers but can refer back to the sixth or seventh generation."

Up until the 19th century (in some rural areas) the Welsh used an ancient PATRONYMIC naming system whereby the children of a marriage took their Father's forename as their surname (or very occasionally mothers). As a result surnames were not fixed and changed from generation to generation.

For example: our John Rees of Cefnmeurig (d 1749) had three sons, John, William and David.

The three sons went by the names of:
John John or John John Rees;
William John or William John Rees
David John or David John Rees

John John had a son, David, who was known as David John
William John also had a son, David, who was known as David William

Thereafter all David John's descendants had the surname JOHN and all David William's descendants had the surname WILLIAM OR WILLIAMS.

The abbreviations "ap" meaning "son of" (e.g. John ap John) or "vch" meaning "daughter of" (e.g. Margaret vch John) were used in older wills and documents but rarely with as much style as one 18th century Welsh bankrupt. He signed himself as:

“Siôn ap William ap Siôn ap William ap Siôn ap Dafydd ap Ithel Fychan ap Cynrig ap Robert ap Iorwerth ap Rhyrid ap Iorwerth ap Madoc ap Ednawain Bendow called after the English fashion... John Jones”

In the mid 19th century the top 10 Welsh surnames were as follows:

1. Jones
2. Williams
3. Davies
4. Thomas
5. Evans
6. Roberts
7. Hughes
8. Lewis
9. Morgan
10. Griffiths

(Source – “The Surnames of Wales” John and Sheila Rowlands. ISBN 9781848517752)