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What are archives?

Archives are documents created or accumulated by individuals or institutions, and selected for permanent preservation.

The documents were originally created for administrative or personal purposes, but with the passage of time became archives. They are the raw material of history providing original and unique evidence of events in the past. They are essential for historical research.

Archives at the Library

The Library holds a wide variety of archives in terms of their size, type of documents and the information contained in them, and in terms of their date. From the medieval charters of the Cistercian Abbey of Strata Marcella, near Welshpool to recent records of the National Eisteddfod of Wales, from the political archive of the late Gwynfor Evans to the scrapbooks of the boxer Freddie Welsh, archives contain information extending to every branch of knowledge.

During the early years, the majority of archives received by the Library consisted of the records of the landed gentry and their estates. Included among these family and estate archives are collections such as:

These are substantial collections in terms of their size, and they reflect the growth, development and influence of landed families throughout Wales over many centuries.

They contain thousands of original documents such as:

  • title deeds transferring property
  • rent books listing tenants and their properties
  • manorial records
  • correspondence
  • documents relating to the administration of the estate

It is not possible to trace the industrial, social and economic history of Wales without using the sources available among the records of the large estates and also smaller estates whose influence is more local.

You can search the estate record through NLW Archives and Manuscripts, or you can see the A-Z list of 50 of the largest/most popular estate collections.

More recently, the Library began to collect other types of archives, such as corporate archives (institutions, societies and public bodies) and personal and family archives.

Corporate archives

This category contains valuable archives of national importance, such as:

  • The Church in Wales archive. This archive contains many vital sources for those interested in family history, such as registers of baptisms, marriages and burials, bishop’s transcripts, wills, and marriage bonds
  • archives of nonconformist denominations, particularly the Calvinistic Methodist Archives
  • archive of the Court of Great Sessions, the Court responsible for trying all types of crimes, from petty theft to high treason, between 1543 and 1830
  • archives of a number of cultural institutions such as the National Eisteddfod, Arts Council of Wales and Welsh National Opera
  • archives of a number of political, industrial, agricultural, educational and professional institutions.

Personal archives

Included in this category are archives of individuals and families who have played a significant part in the life of the nation in various fields.

  • Archives of politicians
  • Writers (Welsh and Anglo-Welsh)
  • Musicians and composers
  • Artists
  • Academics
  • Naturalists
  • Individuals prominent in the public life of the nation

Included in this category are archives of individuals and families who have played a significant part in the life of the nation in various fields. This type of varied archive could prove useful, for example, to the academic wishing to study intricate literary drafts (David Jones archive), to those interested in dogs (Doggie Hubbard archive), or to those studying wildlife in Wales (William Condry  archive).

Value of archives

Since archives are the raw material of history, they should be used at all levels of education – school children engaged in local history projects; university staff undertaking academic research; or members of the public following evening courses in family history.;

Curiosity could be the incentive for others to use archives, such as the desire to discover the history of their house or to trace the names used for local fields or farms. Whatever the reason, archives are an indispensable source for studying and interpreting the history of local communities and the history of the nation.