ELEC­TORAL REG­IS­TERS

Th­ese an­nual records list those who were el­i­gi­ble to vote and a new re­lease from Find­my­past con­tain­ing 220 mil­lion names can help you track down your an­ces­tors, as Paul Blake ex­plains

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS - Paul Blake is a free­lance re­searcher, lec­turer, writer and joint au­thor of Dis­cover YourRoots (In­fi­nite Ideas Lim­ited, 2006)

Paul Blake ex­plains how you can use a ma­jor new re­lease from Find­my­past to find your an­ces­tors who were among those el­i­gi­ble to vote

In the early 19th cen­tury, the Tories had been the dom­i­nant force in Par­lia­ment, strongly op­posed to

in­creas­ing the num­ber of peo­ple who could vote

The in­tro­duc­tion of printed elec­toral reg­is­ters in 1832, which list all those el­i­gi­ble to vote, was a ma­jor step for­ward in the demo­cratic process. Al­though the de­cen­nial census from 1841 should list ev­ery­one, the elec­toral reg­is­ters give an an­nual record for us to re­fer to, even though they in­cluded only a mi­nor­ity of the male pop­u­la­tion.

As the fran­chise widened, more and more in­di­vid­u­als were recorded, which makes elec­toral reg­is­ters a ma­jor fam­ily his­tory re­source af­ter the last avail­able census of 1911. Un­til a few years ago, elec­toral reg­is­ters were dif­fi­cult and te­dious to use, with the only na­tional col­lec­tion be­ing held by the Bri­tish Li­brary. How­ever, in re­cent years many reg­is­ters have been digi­tised and made avail­able on­line, cul­mi­nat­ing in the re­cent ad­di­tion of those for 1832-1932 on Find­my­past.

Vot­ing in Bri­tain

In the early 19th cen­tury, the Tories had been the dom­i­nant force in Par­lia­ment, strongly op­posed to in­creas­ing the num­ber of peo­ple who could vote. In Novem­ber 1830, the Whigs took con­trol, pledg­ing elec­toral re­forms.

On 22 Septem­ber 1831, the House of Com­mons passed the Re­form Bill, only for it to be de­feated in the Tory-dom­i­nated House of Lords. Ri­ots fol­lowed in sev­eral Bri­tish towns, the most se­ri­ous be­ing in Bris­tol in Oc­to­ber 1831. Par­lia­men­tary chaos en­sued: Earl Grey’s govern­ment re­signed; the Duke of Welling­ton, a Tory, failed to form a re­place­ment govern­ment; and Grey was asked to re­turn to pre­vent fur­ther civil un­rest. The Lords even­tu­ally backed down and the Rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the Peo­ple Act, usu­ally known as the first Re­form Act or Great Re­form Act, was passed on 4 June 1832.

The Act ap­plied only in Eng­land and Wales; the sep­a­rate Scot­tish Re­form Act 1832 and Ir­ish Rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the Peo­ple (Ire­land) Act 1832

en­acted sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion in those two coun­tries.

The Act cre­ated 67 new con­stituen­cies, in­clud­ing the fast-grow­ing in­dus­trial towns that pre­vi­ously had no rep­re­sen­ta­tion at all, such as Manch­ester, Birm­ing­ham, Brad­ford and Leeds. The Act in­creased the elec­torate from around 366,000 to 650,000, which, be­cause of prop­erty qual­i­fi­ca­tions, was about 18 per cent of the to­tal adult male pop­u­la­tion in Eng­land and Wales.

Lim­ited vot­ers

Nev­er­the­less, many were dis­ap­pointed with the terms of the Act. The vast ma­jor­ity of work­ing-class men were still ex­cluded from vot­ing, while it also marked a step back for women as it con­fined the fran­chise to “male per­sons” for the first time. In the 17th and 18th cen­turies, a hand­ful of women not only qual­i­fied for the vote, but also ex­er­cised it.

The 1832 Act had also failed to in­tro­duce a se­cret bal­lot, which wasn’t ad­dressed un­til the Bal­lot Act in 1872 was in­tro­duced fol­low­ing il­le­gal prac­tices at the 1868 Gen­eral Elec­tion.

The 1832 Act was dwarfed by the huge im­pact of the 1867 and 1884 Re­form Acts. The 1867 Re­form Act was the se­cond ma­jor at­tempt to re­form Bri­tain’s elec­toral process. It al­most dou­bled the size of the elec­torate, and en­fran­chised 1.5 mil­lion men.

All male ur­ban house­hold­ers and male lodgers pay­ing at least £10 rent a year for un­fur­nished ac­com­mo­da­tion re­ceived the vote. There was also a re­dis­tri­bu­tion of par­lia­men­tary seats and the Univer­sity of Lon­don was given a seat, join­ing Ox­ford and Cam­bridge univer­si­ties.

The 1884 Re­form Act did for ru­ral Bri­tain what the 1867 Act had done for towns and cities – all adult male house­hold­ers and lodgers pay­ing more than £10 rent a year for un­fur­nished ac­com­mo­da­tion re­ceived the vote. The elec­torate af­ter this Act stood at 5.5 mil­lion – about 60 per cent of the adult male pop­u­la­tion. How­ever, none of th­ese Acts gave any political rights to women and so con­tin­ued to ig­nore a ma­jor sec­tion of Bri­tish so­ci­ety.

The prop­erty qual­i­fi­ca­tion was fi­nally re­moved, for men, in 1918, when most males aged 21 and older be­came el­i­gi­ble to vote. The fran­chise was also ex­tended to some women over the age of 30, but it wasn’t un­til 1928 that the vot­ing age was made 21 for both men and women.

In 1969, the age limit was fur­ther re­duced to 18 years old for both men and women. Uniquely, in the 2014 Scot­tish Ref­er­en­dum, the age was re­duced to 16 years.

The 1832 Re­form Act in­tro­duced a sys­tem of voter reg­is­tra­tion, to be ad­min­is­tered by the over­seers of the poor in ev­ery parish and town­ship. An an­nual reg­is­ter of elec­tors was com­piled and printed, list­ing the names of those peo­ple en­ti­tled to vote dur­ing that year.

Elec­toral reg­is­ters are com­piled and ar­ranged by polling dis­tricts, which com­bine to form par­lia­men­tary con­stituen­cies. They give the name and “place of abode” of the voter and, un­til 1948, the na­ture of their qual­i­fi­ca­tion to vote. Be­tween 1885 and 1915, the names of land­lords, weekly rent and

num­ber of rooms rented for those who qual­i­fied to vote un­der the lodger’s fran­chise were also in­cluded. Be­tween 1868 and 1928, the names of the very few women who had the mu­nic­i­pal vote were in­cluded. From 1878, those en­ti­tled to vote at mu­nic­i­pal but not par­lia­men­tary elec­tions were recorded.

For a few years from 1945, the Na­tional Reg­is­tra­tion Iden­tity Num­ber was used to dis­tin­guish be­tween two peo­ple with the same first name and/or ini­tial at the same ad­dress. Some sur­viv­ing reg­is­ters in­clude hand­writ­ten an­no­ta­tions, such as notes on deaths and re­movals.

Copies of reg­is­ters orig­i­nally used by party agents can oc­ca­sion­ally be found and may in­di­cate vot­ing in­ten­tions.

Vot­ers’ lists

Orig­i­nally, there were dif­fer­ent vot­ers’ lists used for lo­cal and par­lia­men­tary elec­tions, mainly be­cause dif­fer­ent rules ap­plied to each: Burgess rolls list the peo­ple who were en­ti­tled to vote in lo­cal govern­ment elec­tions; par­lia­men­tary reg­is­ters list those en­ti­tled to vote in par­lia­men­tary elec­tions; and parochial reg­is­ters list peo­ple en­ti­tled to vote in parish coun­cil elec­tions. Only from 1878 was a sin­gle reg­is­ter per­mit­ted (and later made manda­tory) for each con­stituency in­cor­po­rat­ing the par­lia­men­tary and the Burgess lists. Th­ese are ar­ranged by par­lia­men­tary divi­sion, polling district, then by ad­dress. Be­fore 1878, they are usu­ally or­dered al­pha­bet­i­cally by vot­ers’ sur­name.

Elec­toral reg­is­ters can show when an in­di­vid­ual be­came el­i­gi­ble to vote in a par­tic­u­lar place, and when they left that place or pos­si­bly died. The in­for­ma­tion they pro­vide may lead to other valu­able sources of in­for­ma­tion.

Al­though reg­is­ters were pro­duced for al­most ev­ery year from 1832, there are some ex­cep­tions. No­tably, dur­ing the two world wars, when no reg­is­ters were pre­pared for 1916-17

(1915-17 in Scot­land) and 1940-1944. In 1868, 1885, 19191926 and 1945-1946 two reg­is­ters were pub­lished each year. From 2003, it’s been pos­si­ble to opt out of the reg­is­ter’s pub­lic edi­tion with two ver­sions pro­duced: the ‘full’ and the ‘edited’. In as­so­ci­a­tion with the Bri­tish Li­brary, Find­my­past has now pub­lished the BL’s hold­ings of elec­toral reg­is­ters from 1832 to 1932. This is the largest FMP col­lec­tion, with over 220 mil­lion names. Th­ese have never been avail­able on­line in one place be­fore and will un­doubt­edly be a unique re­source for ge­neal­o­gists.

The records are in PDF for­mat and search­ing a PDF is dif­fer­ent to tran­scribed records. Search op­tions are cur­rently lim­ited, but you can call up the records by name and con­stituency, as well as by key­word. The re­turns are based on prox­im­ity (how close to­gether the words are lo­cated). So a search for Ge­orge Brown will also bring up Wil­liam Ge­orge Brown; or a search for Al­bert Smith may re­turn John Smith of Al­bert Square. The name-variant search check box will not work with a PDF search, so you will need to try vari­ants in­di­vid­u­ally. But you can un­der­take wild­card searches us­ing the Full Text Search Field: so *Bert* will re­turn Al­bert and Ber­tram as well as Bert.

Re­sults are not linked to a county, but work is in hand to try to re­late con­stituen­cies to a county and to add this to the search op­tions. You’ll get mul­ti­ple re­sults per per­son, as they will ap­pear in the reg­is­ter each year that they’re reg­is­tered to vote at that ad­dress. This could in­di­cate when an in­di­vid­ual or fam­ily may have ar­rived and left a par­tic­u­lar ad­dress so you can trace your an­ces­tor’s move­ments.

The polling booth dur­ing the Gen­eral Elec­tion of 1873

The 1880 Gen­eral Elec­tion

votes are counted in South­wark, south Lon­don

A huge crowd gath­ers to hear the re­sult of the Gen­eral Elec­tion of 1880 in Leeds, West York­shire

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