1 POLLING DISTRICT AND WARD
These are listed at the head of every page. Note that the wards are usually arranged in alphabetical order. A street index is often at the front.
2 NAMES OF ELECTORS
Voters’ names are provided surname first, then first name and middle name (although sometimes just initials). No women are included in the 1913 example, unlike that for 1931.
Roads, streets and so on are given in alphabetical order under each ward. House numbers may be consecutive, or arranged with the odd numbers first followed by the even numbers.
Abbreviations appear in registers after 1918, including ‘–’: the person was ineligible to vote; ‘J’: they were eligible for jury service; ‘R’: residence qualification; ‘B’: business premises qualification; ‘O’: occupational qualification; ‘D’: they had a qualification through their spouse’s occupation; and ‘NM’: they were a member of the military. A ‘w’ is appended when the registered person is a woman.
OF QUALIFYING PROPERTY
Usually the same as place of abode, but some voters did not live in the property that qualified them to vote.
(and later mandatory) for each constituency, with those women entitled to vote at municipal but not parliamentary elections recorded.
Electoral registers are arranged by parliamentary division, polling district, and then by address. Before 1878 many are arranged alphabetically by voters’ surname. They include 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 the landlords, weekly rent and number of rooms rented for those who qualified to vote under the lodger’s franchise are also included.
Absent voters’ lists enabled servicemen and women, and some others, to vote when they were away on active service. Most cover the few years after 1918, with some through to 1939.
A Century Of Change
Until 1918, there were property qualifications that gave entitlement to vote. In 1918 most men aged 21 or over became eligible to vote in parliamentary elections for the first time, as did women aged 30 and over who were local government voters, or their wives. The voting age for women was lowered to 21 in 1928, and in 1969 to 18 for both men and women. In Scotland it was reduced to 16 for all elections in 2015.
Copies of the historic electoral registers should be found at the relevant local library or archives; you can find these by searching The National Archives’ electronic catalogue Discovery (see the Resources box). The only national set (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland), from 1947, with a reasonable but far from complete collection of earlier registers, is stored at the British Library.
The subscription websites ancestry.co.uk, findmypast. co.uk and thegenealogist. co.uk each have collections of electoral registers and voters’ lists for England and Wales, as well as Scotland and Ireland. Most of these are limited to just a few counties and districts within them, and to single or short runs of years. It is therefore vital to check the websites’ descriptions of record sets to see what is covered.
Ancestry and Findmypast each host a major collection of electoral registers. Ancestry has the London Metropolitan Archives collection at search.ancestry. co.uk/search/group/london_ met_archives; this is the most comprehensive set for the London and Middlesex areas. Findmypast hosts the British Library collection, for England and Wales only, 1832–1932. Registers from 1920 to 1932 have just recently been indexed: search. findmypast.co.uk/search-worldrecords/england-and-waleselectoral-registers-1920-1932 while earlier records are still just browse-only PDFs. With so many now online, electoral registers have become a key genealogical tool.
PAUL BLAKE is a writer and lecturer on genealogy, the president of the East Surrey Family History Society, and a Fellow of the Society of Genealogists. WEBSITES
Search TNA’s catalogue to discover where electoral registers are held locally. Also check the relevant archive’s online catalogue.
PARLIAMENTARY CONSTITUENCIES AND THEIR REGISTERS SINCE 1832
wbit.ly/bl-constituencies This free 377-page PDF from the British Library is a comprehensive list of electoral registers held by the library. If you can’t find someone in the Findmypast collection, this can be a useful way of checking that the relevant electoral register is actually included.
‘It is vital to check the websites’ descriptions of record sets carefully’