Unearth the Past at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth

If your ancestors lived or died in Wales it is likely that a record of their life will be stored, and may even be accessible, in the National Library of Wales.  When I visited the library in 2018 I expected to be welcomed into the library and offered the opportunity to view a dozen or so ‘old’ books that would enlighten me. I envisioned myself wearing little white gloves, perusing old manuscripts and leaving the library enlightened having absorbed the knowledge and history through my skin. In reality the man behind the counter was at a loss as to how to help me. “I’ve come to see some books” I said. “We have a lot of books he answered” and with a bemused look on his face he pointed me in the direction of the exhibition room on the first floor. With 7,000,000 feet of film and 6,000,000 books and newspapers it is better to plan ahead and know in advance what you would like to see. After my initial trip I did some research and put together some top tips of how to make the most of a visit to the National Library of Wales.

  1. Before you go sign up for a one-to-one information session with a staff member where they explain how to use the catalogues, and an introduction to the resources available for your research. These sessions cover:
    • Family history and local history
    • Property history
    • Catalogue and Subscriptions
  1. Also before you go register online for a Readers Ticket which is valid for a period of three years and will give you access to all the collections.
  2. Every Wednesday afternoon the library gives a guided tour and presentation of their collection and history. Tickets can be booked online (please see links below) but get booked up quickly so make sure you get yours in advance.
  3. If you’re researching your ancestry it’s helpful if you know in advance who you want to research and what information you’d like to look for. The library hold a vast number of records useful to family historians – census returns, probate records, nonconformist records and tithe maps to name just a few. Having as much information with you when you go will save you time.
  4. Similarly if you have a special interest look on the library’s website to check what information they have that available. Many of their books are available to view online but I don’t think this compares to holding the book in your hands.
  5. Pre-order material before you visit especially if you’re visiting on a Saturday.
  6. Events and exhibitions change regularly all of which are advertised on the library’s website. On display indefinitely is a fragile piece of wood known as the Nanteos Cup. The exact origin of the Cup is a mystery, but apparently it is the Holy Grail, the Cup from which Christ and his disciples drank at the Last Supper. It really is a must see but make sure you don’t touch its glass case as the alarms will go off, and the security guards will come running, leaving you standing there alone and embarrassed. Not speaking from experience obviously.

5 thoughts on “Unearth the Past at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth

  1. Oh this is so useful, thank you!! I’ve been meaning to head to the library for ages to do some research into relatives but I wasn’t quite sure how to approach it and was a bit daunted but this helps very much. Ps I hope you have recovered from the security alarm incident :-))


  2. Good to know, should I want to do some reseach… and be tempted to touch the glass. How do the suppose the cup got to Wales? That would be interesting to know.


  3. The likelihood is that the Cup is from Strata Florida, or, if you believe the “legend” it was brought from the Holy Land to Glastonbury by Joseph of Arimathea after the Crucifixion, stayed in Glastonbury until the Dissolution of the monasteries, was spirited away “over the impassable mountains” to Strata Florida and then seven monks brought it to Nanteos. One by one the old monks died until the last of them gave it to the Lord of the Manor and told him to guard it “until the Church shall once more claim its own”.

    As far as anyone can tell, the “Holy Grail” thing started off in the Victorian era but prior to that the Cup was believed to have healing powers and was believed to have been made from the wood of the True Cross.

    For the seriously interested, I have a FB group with loads more information and hope to have a book published, possibly this year.



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