Wales and the Welsh in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography tells the life stories of nearly 60,000 men and women (deceased in or before 2010) who have shaped British history worldwide. Of these, more than 3300 were born or lived in Wales, or left their mark on aspects of Welsh life—from politics to sport, industry to the arts.
Together these subjects span 1500 years of Welsh history, beginning with the sixth-century St Deiniol (bishop of Bangor and monastery founder) and concluding with close contemporaries such as the footballer John Charles (1931–2004), the pioneering organic farmer, Dinah Williams (1911-2009), and Michael Foot (1913-2010), the long-serving Labour MP for Ebbw Vale.
1. Find people
With the online edition of the Oxford DNB you can search for people:
- by name (including nicknames, pseudonyms, married names, title names and more)
- by date or date range
- by place of birth, baptism, education, residence (including street, where known), death, and burial
- by ‘profession’ (we have 1300 on offer: from wrestlers to helminthologists)
- by religious affiliation (we have 250: from the Church in Wales to Magic Methodists)
This means you can quickly discover
- by what name Cardiff’s David Ivor Davies is better known
- who was Mam Cymru and why was she so named
- aside from the land speed record holder John Parry Thomas, who was born in Wrexham
- which literary figures are associated with Swansea
- who was born on St David’s Day, or on your birthday
- who was buried on Anglesey?
- which scientists were educated in Aberystwyth
- in addition to the ‘Two Ladies’, who lived in Llangollen
2. Search for words, references, and images
Online you can also search the Dictionary’s 84 million words of text; its listings of individuals’ archives, likenesses, and wealth at death; and its 11,200 portrait images which accompany 1 in 5 biographies, making this the largest published collection of national portraiture. Which means you can also find:
- how many references the Dictionary contains to Snowdon as a place, rather than as an aristocratic title
- which rugby player’s estate was valued at £72,042 at the time of his death in 1983
- which Welsh footballer was sent toothpicks, and why
- how many ODNB subjects have portraits in the National Museum and Gallery of Wales
- how many of portraits by Tenby-born Augustus John are used to illustrate the ODNB (then click on an icon to view the portrait)
3. New biographies published three times a year
Since publication in 2004, the Oxford DNB has been extended with online updates published every January, May, and September.
January updates add biographies of men and women who died in the early twenty-first century, while those for May and October add people from the ‘earliest times’ to 2000.
Of the 2100 men and women added to the ODNB since 2004, Welsh examples include:
- Sir Julian Hodge (1904–2004), merchant banker and businessman
- Samuel Brain (1850–1903), brewer
- Winifred Tennant (1874–1956), suffragist and spiritualist medium
- Huw Thomas Edwards (1892–1970), trade unionist and politician
- Felix Powell (1878–1942), composer of the marching song, ‘Pack up your troubles’
- Sarah Jacob [called the Welsh Fasting Girl] (1857–1869), victim of self-starvation
- Leighton Rees (1940–2003), darts player
- David Watts Morgan (1867–1933), miners' leader and wartime recruiter
- Trevor Ford (1923–2003), footballer
4. Themes for quick reference and research
As well as new biographies, updates have added more than 500 articles to create a new Themes area of the online Oxford DNB.
Themes provide an expanding online 'handbook' to the people who shaped British history worldwide. Themes take three forms—lists, groups, and features—and are useful for quick reference, making connections between people, and as routes into the main dictionary (all individuals mentioned link back to the full biography for further reading).
- Welsh-related features include the literary network of Hen bersoniaid llengar and essays on the rising by Owain Glyn Dwr and Iolo Morganwg, Bard of Liberty.
5. Getting the most from your subscription
- Topical history: regular features linking people in the past to current anniversaries. Examples include the Armistice, Faces of Sgt Pepper, and Football Legends.
- Interactive features: maps and galleries include Lives at sea, Brewers of Britain, and Victoria Cross holders, alongside a regular biography podcast.
- Five lives: 20 unusual routes into the dictionary’s content