compound the difficulties. Two such problems may be briefly mentioned here. One is the difficulty of identifying individuals in a situation where genealogi- cal information is scanty, personal names fluid and kin and affinal relationships rarely stated in the sources.4 Another problem is the identifica- tion of the areas of social activity where such ties operated effectively. One society in which these issues can be addressed is that of medieval Wales. In the debate over the value and scale of kinship links mentioned above, the ties under discussion were, in most cases, informal rather than part of the legal structure. In Wales the situation was different. Welsh society and law functioned around the kindred. As Gerald of Wales pointed out in the twelfth century, the native Welsh were a people obsessed by lineage and descent. 'Even the common people retain their genealogy, and can not only readily recount the names of their grandfathers and great-grandfathers, but even refer back to the sixth or seventh generation.'5 Unlike some of Gerald's observa- tions, this one can be backed up by other evidence which establishes that this was no exaggeration. From the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, even from as late as the eighteenth century, there survives an extensive body of genealogical writings. These show a continuing desire to trace and display lines of descent back into a very dim and distant past. This interest in genealogy is understand- able. In the society of medieval Wales the essential division was between freeman and bondmen and the essence of freedom was noble descent. To be free was to be noble and therefore there was a need to prove such descent by the creation of genealogies. In native Welsh society no exclusively aristocratic caste grew up and, while the genealogical evidence relates to individuals and kindreds who regarded themselves as noble (the Welsh term for freeman, uchelwr, being rendered as nobilis or optimas in Latin), the bulk of those concerned would be classified as peasants. It was free birth and, hence, membership of a lineage which was also free, rather than wealth or the quan- tity of land, which determined the standing of the individual. An understanding of the role and importance of kinship in medieval Welsh society comes essentially from two major sources. First, the written texts of the Welsh laws from the thirteenth century, reflecting, as they do, a far older tradition, give an impression of the theoretical and formal role of ties of kinship. Secondly, the post-conquest surveys of royal lands and marcher lord- ships, in particular those of Denbigh (1334), the royal counties of Anglesey and Caemarfon (1351) and of Bromfield and Yale (1391), add to this by reveal- ing information about collective kin responsibilities for land and financial dues 4 A. Plakans, Kinship in the Past (Oxford, 1984), pp. 1-50. The Historical Works of Giraldus Cambrensis, ed. T. Wright (London, 1863), p. 505.