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Discovering Ancestors - Through Electoral Registers

Records for who voted for what, or who was entitled to vote where, can be interesting in their own right, but their main use is in pinning people down to particular places and years, either to gain further genealogical co-ordinates on where they may have originated or to trace long-lost friends or relatives.

Electoral Registers

Electoral registers are of prime importance as they list all those entitled to votes, and have been kept annually since 1832, with the exception of 1916-17 and 1940-44. They were originally arranged alphabetically, changing gradually in the 19th century to a street-by-street arrangement within electoral wards. Bear in mind that they were usually printed about half a year after the information had been collected, so may include people who had died by the date of publication.

These records can be used to pinpoint roughly when families appeared and disappeared from places (and, later, from specific addresses) and they sometimes tell you when events took place within families. When searching the history of a house in Fulham, for example, I found William and Jane Porter appearing under the address in question in 1923. In 1927 a Mabel Porter appears, joined by Olive Porter in 1929 and finally Frederick William Porter in 1930 in other words, children appearing as they attained their 21st birthdays. This theory was borne out when Olive was found marrying in 1937, aged 30, that is, born about 1907 (she was in fact 'of age' in 1928 but clearly only joined the electoral register the year after).

Parliamentary Elections

Originally, only men aged over 20 could vote. Those who owned a freehold worth 40 shillings or more could vote, unless they lived in towns and cities, where qualifications varied: in some cases, only freemen could vote, while in others all householders, known as 'potwallopers', could have their say.
  • From 1832, all men owning land worth 10 or over, and townsmen leasing land worth 10 or over, could vote.
  • In 1867 the countryside qualification value was dropped to 5 and the franchise also extended to those paying 50 or more in rent, while in the towns all male householders were allowed to vote.
  • In 1884 this latter qualification was extended to the countryside. Votes for all men over 20 and female householders over 30 came in 1918, with the vote extended to all women aged over 20 in 1928.
  • Up to 1970 those over 20 were listed, and in the year someone reached the age of 21 the letter 'Y' may appear.
  • From 1971, everyone over 17 appears.

Local Elections

From 1835, voting in local elections was generally open to more than be eligible to vote in Parliamentary elections. All men who paid poor rates could vote from 1835, and women who paid the same rate and owned property of the requisite value could vote from 1869, making local poll books of more genealogical use than those for national elections.

Written By:
  1. Navin Kumar Jaggi
  2. Gurmeet Singh Jaggi

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