London Overseer Returns 1863-1894

London Overseers Returns doesn’t seem to be announcing their new data releases with the normal trumpet fanfare and drum roll, so I was surprised to see that this set of valuable records for those with London ancestors was simply listed under this month’s feature. Never mind they are online  which is the important thing.

Although this data is headed Overseers Returns, and that indeed is what they are, we normally expect anything to do with the parish overseers to concern payments out of or into the poor funds. This set of records are in fact a list residents within the parish who are claiming a right to vote. The Reform Act of 1832 required voters to be registered and the parish overseers were used to collect the information to compile the registers.

What we are seeing in this dataset is the returns that were used to list all the voters in the registers. The London Metropolitan Archives which hold the originals calls them “raw material” which is a good description. The returns are organised in bundles by polling district and each bundle is for a set year. Within the bundle the parishioners are arranged alphabetically.

The information likely to be found is –

    • name
    • address
    • residence year
    • voting qualification
    • description of qualifying property

The records on can be searched by surname or can be browsed by location.

A search for any entries for the surname Pottinger came up with two results both for the same man John Pottinger one in 1885 and one in 1886.The information given is as follows

Full name John Pottinger
Place of abode 5 Strafford Road, Acton W
Nature of qualification Dwelling house
Description of qualifying property 5 Strafford Road
Full name John Pottinger
Place of abode 5 Strafford Road, Acton
Nature of qualification Dwelling house
Description of qualifying property 5 Strafford Road

The records are printed so there must have been forms that either the resident or the overseers filled in, I wonder whether they have survived? However there are plenty of names crossed out, names added to the bottom of the page and spelling corrected so this shows that what we are seeing is not the final copies.

This record set is useful for those years where the electoral rolls either haven’t survived or aren’t available online. A very useful tools for tracking families between the census. Remember that you will not find any of your female ancestors or men who did not qualify for the vote in this dataset.

London Metropolitan Archives

Electoral Registers & Poll Books

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.

An Election Entertainment by William Hogarth

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 Berkshire Poll Book 1721in 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.

Hackney Central Electoral Register 1890In 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? 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.


Poll Books Online have recently put online Poll Books that are part of the London Metropolitan Archives holdings. Although held by a London based archive these poll books cover the UK. They mainly cover the time period 1832 – 1872, but some date back earlier.

Prior to 1872 voters had to declare publicly who they were voting for. There was much concern that voters could be bought by a candidate to ensure their success. These documents are well worth searching as it was not just the wealthy who could vote, tradesmen often appear amongst the list of voters.