Electoral Registers & Poll Books
Electoral Rolls & Poll Books are a valuable and a greatly underused source of information for the family historian. They pre-date the census and can be good indicators of the wealth and status of your ancestors.
The History of Electoral Registers & Poll Books
In 1696 Parliament passed an act which it was hoped would curb fraudulent behaviour in elections. Sheriffs were charged with making a list of those who were eligible to vote and which candidate they voted for in county elections. These were then published and became known as Poll Books. It was thought that making public who voted for whom would stop the bribery and corruption that had become rife. These poll books were used until the idea of secret ballot was introduced in 1872.
The registers were usually valid for one year and then the gathering in of names and checking of eligibility was once more undertaken. During the time periods 1916 – 1917 & 1940 – 1944 registers were not published due to WW1 & WW2.
Who will you find in Electoral Registers & Poll Books?
Not everyone could vote so do not be surprised if you don’t find all your ancestors in electoral registers and poll books. Up until 1832 voters needed to be freeholders or meet property requirement and even if your ancestors did meet the criteria if they didn’t cast their vote then they will not appear in the poll books.
The property requirements were eased during the 19th century and finally in 1918 most men aged 21 years and older were allowed to vote. Also in 1918 some women aged 30 years and over who met property requirements were given the right to vote. In 1928 the voting age for both men and women was amended to 21 years and older.
What can be found in Electoral Registers & Poll Books?
Details of the election such as who were the candidates, when it took place and what position the election was being held for are noted in the books. Then there will be a list of the names of those who voted, their qualifications for being eligible, the name of the place where the property was held that meant they were eligible, and lastly, until 1872, who they voted for.
In later electoral registers names, address and parliamentary district only will be found. The registers are generally arranged by polling district, street, house number and then surname. However the electoral registers and poll books that are now available online have been indexed by surname so finding your ancestors has been made much easier. It is a good idea to note the names of others who are living at the same address as they may be family members.
Where can I find Electoral Registers & Poll Books online?
Ancestry.co.uk has the following registers & books online. Note that the U.K. collection is far from complete so if you can’t find your ancestors in the index an email to the local County Record Office will clarify whether they hold Electoral Registers for your ancestors area and if they have been scanned by Ancestry or FindMyPast.
- London Electoral Registers 1847 – 1965
- Dorset Electoral Registers 1839 – 1922
- U.K. Poll Books & Electoral Registers 1538 – 1893
- Australian Electoral Registers 1903 – 1980
- New South Wales, Australia Electoral Registers 1842 – 1864
- New Zealand Electoral Registers 1853 – 1981
- New Zealand Maori Voters & Electoral Registers 1908 & 1919
FindMyPast has entered into an agreement with the British Library to scan and indexes some of the library’s holdings. It is hoped that the collection of Electoral Registers, which is extensive, will be online by the end of 2012.
- Cheshire Electoral Registers 1842 – 1900
Guides to Electoral Registers & Poll Books.
London Metropolitan Archives have a good online guide to London Electoral Registers.
A number of county record offices also offer online guides, a Google search for the record office for the county in which your ancestor lived will take you to their website.