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Electoral Rolls for Family History in the British Empire

Posted by Kathleen Cortez on November 5, 2013 in Ancestry.com Site, Research

In many countries around the world, electoral rolls have been the document that notified each polling place that an individual had the right to cast a vote. These were never meant to be genealogical records and therefore were not necessarily archived. In the U.S. and Canada, each year’s electoral roll was destroyed once a new one was created. However, in some countries under British rule, three copies were created for the various overlapping jurisdictions involved. As a result, a large majority of the international rolls survive and are indexed on Ancestry.com. A search of the term electoral in the card catalog under the “Search” drop down menu reveals:

Note that most rolls start in the nineteenth century. However, one database also covers UK poll books which start in 1538. The value of these records lies in the fact that they cover every year and often allow a researcher to find people with the same surname grouped together on one page, by surname and proximity. Unlike modern city directories, which are alphabetical, but cover an entire city, region, county or state. The poll books and electoral registers recorded every eligible voter by name and according to polling place. Although not all are alphabetical, the names are often grouped this way to aid in the election polling process. These records might aid in finding previously unknown relations simply because of proximity. Think about the books that are consulted when signing in to vote.

A page from our Australia, Electoral Rolls (1903-1980) from Tasmania in 1921

A page from our Australia, Electoral Rolls (1903-1980) from Tasmania in 1921

For the UK, Poll Books and Electoral Registers, 1538-1893 you can browse individual years by clicking on the link and selecting “Browse this collection” which offers a scrolling menu of years available. Clicking on the first available year, 1538 (1537 in actuality), provides a quite readable copy of freemen of London listed by occupation, and cross references the names with those given in Allen’s “Hist. of Ldn” according to a notation at the top of the page. The occupations are alphabetized and the surnames are alphabetized under the occupation. Family history research in this early time period could be greatly aided by a record like this that offers the name and occupation plus possible spelling variations from another publication.

Electoral records are an underused resource in family history and yet the value can be tremendous. On this election-day take a look at electoral records for your British Empire ancestors. In addition, for those with Paris based ancestors in the late 1800s, consult All Paris & Vicinity, France Electoral Rolls. 1891 as they provide alphabetical cards. If researching the Aaron surname within this database, all men with that surname and eligible to vote can be viewed as a group allowing family groups to be constructed. Although there are a limited number of electoral databases on Ancestry.com, these databases comprise over 200 million individual records.

About Kathleen Cortez
Kathy Cortez, MA (Psychology) is the Team Lead for the United Kingdom and Ireland research team at ProGenealogists. Genealogy has been an important part of her life since childhood. In addition to working on her own genealogy for the last 25 years and working for clients full-time since 2004, she also focused on genealogy in her psychology program. For seven years Kathy maintained an independent genealogy business specializing in long-term projects. She is a member of many genealogical organizations including: the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), the National Genealogical Society (NGS), New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) and several locality based societies. Kathy has been a speaker at genealogy conferences including the Utah Genealogical Association (UGA) and the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), where she was the APG 25th Anniversary featured speaker. Her genealogical activities include active participation in local societies. She spent three years as president of the Marin County Genealogical Society in Marin County, California. Read more at http://www.progenealogists.com/kcortez.htm

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