Susan Taylor, librarian in the Special Collections department of The Mitchell Library in Glasgow discusses the Glasgow Electoral Registers (1852 – 1962), now available on Ancestry.
Searching Glasgow’s Electoral Registers just got a whole lot easier. Over 100 years of electoral registers (or voters rolls) from the Mitchell Library’s extensive family history collection have been digitised and made available on Ancestry. The inclusion of the registers from 1857 to 1962 will make a huge difference in terms of undertaking both local history and family history-related research. Previously, we were only able to search through our holdings of printed registers by using the street indices – it was not enough just to know a person’s name, but it was necessary to know what street or what ward they lived in before you could find them. Now, the digitised records will give us yet another tool in our kit with which to assist the public in their research. Being able to search by name alone, means that you can use the digitised registers for the sheer pleasure of people-spotting!
To understand a person, an area or a community, we first need to establish key facts that help us gather evidence about them. Electoral registers record those people eligible to vote, at a given time, in particular local, regional or national elections. They can be used, in conjunction with census returns, to gather demographic information that tells us about the history of local properties and the communities in which they were situated.
They are useful because entries may state not only an individual’s name, but also give their address, occupation and qualification for voting. While the names that appear in the database will be limited by the franchise qualifications of the time, our digitised registers cover a period during which democratic reform grew at a rapid pace. While in 1857, there had already been a number of Reform Acts to extend the franchise more widely across society, by 1962 the registers reveal a dramatic shift, with an enormous increase in the number of voters.
As these registers are published annually, it is possible to trace an individual or members of a family over a number of years by checking the registers for the area where they lived: the appearance of a person in one year’s register and not in another can suggest a death, which can then be checked against Old Parish Records or Statutory Records.
The registers can also help to identify people with the same surname, which might lead to the discovery of members of extended family. Having established the correct address for a person, the registers can be checked at regular intervals (for example, of five years) to trace any changes in the occupancy of particular properties. In this way, they might also be traced forwards to help find living relatives.
Although the researcher must allow for a couple of gaps (that is, 1915-1917, and 1941-1944), when electoral registers were not compiled during wartime, here are just a few examples of the types of information that can be revealed about people in some I have traced:
Stephen Mitchell (1789–1874), whose public bequest enabled the creation of The Mitchell Library, next to his brother, Neilson (both listed as tobacconists, and tenants/proprietors of their warehouse and workshop at 49 St. Andrew’s Square
Surgeon and poisoner, Edward William Pritchard (1825-1865) registered at three addresses over a three-year period: 66 Berkeley Street, 22 Royal Crescent and 131 Sauchiehall Street (now demolished)
Labour activist and politician, Mary Barbour (1875-1958), listed next to her husband David, at 43 Ure Street in Govan, in the register for 1918 local elections • Boxer, Benny Lynch (1913-1946), living at 322 Rutherglen Road in 1935
Painter, Joan Eardley (1921-1963), whose work depicted the children and tenements of the city, with an “L” marked by her name to indicate that she is not entitled to vote at Parliamentary Elections in respect of her non-residential studios in 19 Cochrane Street and 204 St. James’ Road in the 1950s
My own great-uncle at various addresses in Cathcart, Kelvingrove and Pollok, over 40 years (as well as his development in the military from Drill Instructor to Regimental Sergeant Major)
Electoral registers demonstrate changing attitudes to democracy and, therefore, it’s good to feel that, by making these historical registers available via public library membership, we are doing our bit for democratic access to information in the 21st century. If you have ancestors that lived in Glasgow or the west of Scotland you can find out more about The Mitchell Library’s extensive family history collections, including burial records, census returns, maps, newspapers and Scottish directories, at http://www.glasgowfamilyhistory.org.uk