Posted by Paul Rawlins on July 25, 2011 in Collections

Anybody know whether Jack London had gray eyes?

The California Voter Registers, 1866-1898, database just released on takes you back to a time before you presented a picture ID at the voting booth, which may explain some of the unexpected details you may find in these records.

Preventing Voter Fraud

Statewide voter registration in California began in 1866 following the Registry Act, an effort to prevent voter fraud that called for “the registration of the citizens of the State, and for the enrollment in the several election districts of all the legal voters thereof.”

Registers were created on the county level. Only men over the age of 21 were eligible to vote until 1911, when women were granted the franchise, and the state occasionally passed other exclusionary laws: an 1879 amendment denied voting rights to natives of China, for example (it was repealed in 1926). But if your male ancestor of legal age did make it into the registers, you could end up feeling like you’ve just been elected President.

Gray Eyes, Brown Hair

I don’t know if the John London who registered in June 1897 is author John Griffith “Jack” London.

He is the right age, at the right place, with the right occupation, which is a good start. Even better, his registration provides additional details (like eye color, height, and address) that I can use to try to find out for sure.

Different registers and different years asked for different details. Chocolatier Domingo (Domenico) Ghirardelli’s entry doesn’t include a physical description, but his age, nativity, and naturalization details help clinch the deal.

Leland Stanford’s registrations trace his work history from the “R. R. Busine’s” in 1880

to “Farmer” in 1890. Though whether he was thinking of the vast estate where he bred horses or his miles of vineyards isn’t clear.

In the end, you may not find out whether your ancestors voted Democrat or Republican (or even Whig), but you might be surprised by what you can learn searching the California Voter Registers.


  1. scwbcm

    Great resource. I was able to locate many names. Particularly good for middle name. Usual indexing issues.

  2. scwbcm

    I should have added that in spite of the usual indexing issues the means to correct the indexing is improving.

    Overall this has been a very interesting resource and has been helpful for supporting other materials. It is also nice because it fills in a gap for some years that don’t have a lot of sources and follow the gold rush boom.

  3. Lori

    This really is a terrific resource! Please help with a question, though, regarding notations made with regard to citizenship/naturalization status. In particular — “Sec. 6 of the Registry Act.” I have been unsuccessful in trying to find out what this means. Can you help?

  4. watsbee

    The Registry Act (of 1865-66) was a Calif. state act about voter registration. Sec. 6 has to do with the ways for non-native-born citizens to prove their citizenship if their actual citizenship papers are not available. Completion of a certificate with the testimony of at least two landholders as to how long the claimant has been in the US, how long in Calif., and to the claimant’s standing as to his “good moral character”.

  5. scwbcm

    Sorry to keep replying but I thought people might like to know that what appears to be ancestry duplicates for the same years are in fact somewhat different items in the originals. They look very similiar but a closer look reveals differences.

    Also, watch the place names. I have one at a Charleys Ranch in Butte county, CA and when I click on it, it takes me to another state. I don’t think they town names were well defined at the point.

    This is a great resource! It is very helpful for those miners who only stayed a short time and then returned back east after the gold rush.

  6. Sharon

    The physical descriptions in those old records are great! I would hate to know what mine says. I have voted in California for decades and never had to show a picture ID so maybe they have a description they refer to.

  7. Paul,

    Great write up. Like your use of examples for this fabulous resource. I was able to finally find the naturalization information for several (5) ancestors. Also, was suprised and delighted that physical info is also available. I don’t have any photographs (yet), so this is the next best thing. Keep up the great writing.

    Regards, Terri Fraser

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