England Poll Books 1694 to 1872, Electoral Registers 1832 to the Present (National Institute)
The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Taxes, Lists, Business, Electoral and Insurance Records by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Poll Books 1694-1872
Returning Officers were required from 1696 to compile a list of voters and how they voted. This was to prevent irregularities in parliamentary elections by biased returning officers. The electorate was limited to freeholders so was quite small at this time. Soon after, the poll books were produced commercially so many copies were available up until 1872 when the free vote came in. The parliamentary poll books for boroughs often contained only a dozen or so names, and may have been published in the local newspaper instead of a booklet. Most poll books are for parliamentary elections but some were published for elections of county coroners.
Typically a poll book had a preface with something about the candidates and their opinions, so you may learn about your ancestors’ political leanings. The lists of voters are arranged by hundred and then in alphabetical order of parish and vary in the amount of information that they give about voters. Some have only the names and who they voted for, whilst others have addresses and occupations of the voters, and what freehold land they held in order to qualify. The front page of the poll book gave the poll results, and there may be notations in the lists of those who were absent, neutral, removed (moved away) or deceased. The candidates’ names may appear as abbreviations or initials only at the head of the columns, and the two votes allowed each voter may be marked with a forward slash in the originals but by a horizontal line in printed editions. Some copies have been used by canvassers for the next election who added notations about the voters.
A poll book for Maidstone in 1754 is shown in below and Guy Lawton (Burgess Rolls and Poll Books - A Detective Story. Family Tree Magazine Vol. 16 #12, page 4-6) shows how parish registers, burgess rolls and poll books aided his research.
Chart: 1754 Maidstone, Kent Poll for The Knights of the Shire
(from Thomson-Gale website)
| To Represent The County Of Kent Expressing the Names of the Candidates; and for Which of Them every Person Voted.|
Taken at Maidstone on Wednesday and Thursday the 1st and 2nd of May 1754.
[FWD are the candidates: Fairfax, Watson and Dering]
| FREEHOLDERS ABODE and NAME
|| OF WHAT
|| VOTES |
F W D
|John Oare, cl.||Adington||Rectory|| -
|George Gorham||Kennington||Land||Th. Bourne||-- -|
|Thos Pope, sen||Maidstone||Ditto||His own||--|
|Rich Holloway||Wormshill||House and land||John Durtnall||-- --|
|Thomas Pope, jun||Stoke||Ditto||Will Rich||--|
|Edward Argles||Debtling||Ditto||Will Plummer||-- --|
|James Brattle||Goudhurst||Ditto||Edw Osborne||--|
Other examples include:
- A list of the names of the persons, together with the places of their freehold and abode: who voted for knights of the shire for the county of Bucks, at the last election held at Allesbury [now Aylesbury], September the second and third, 1713 is on FHL film 0908345 and examples from it and from the 1839 Buckinghamshire poll book are given by Markwell and Saul (Facsimiles of Documents of Use to Family Historians, page 72-73, 1987)).
- Newcastle Poll Book 1722-1723 is on FHL film 0252655.
- Bath Poll Book 1855, Banbury Poll 1859 and 1865, were published inexpensively by the Open University (Drake).
- The poll for electing two burgesses, for the King’s town and borough of Maidstone, in the county of Kent: 1830, 1807, 1820, 1859, 1865 including an index is on FHL film 0475161 found under FHCL - ENGLAND - KENT - MAIDSTONE - VOTING REGISTERS.
- At the FamilySearch Catalog COUNTY level are the original editions of polls for knights of the shire of Kent 1734, 1790 and 1802 on FHL film 0475521; and also a series of new printings by the Kent FHS for 1734, 1754, 1790 and 1803 for Kent, and 1835, 1837, 1847, 1852, 1857, 1859, 1865 and 1868 for both the Eastern and Western Divisions of Kent. The new printings are in microform but are not for circulation to FSCs, as fiche copies are sold by the society which produced them.
An 1841 poll book for Westminster confirms that there were, indeed, two men called Thomas Abbott who lived in Silver Street at that time (Chart below).
Chart: 1841 Poll Book St. James Parish, Westminster, Middlesex
FHL film 0962702
| NAME and ADDRESS
| Abbott, Thomas, Silver Street
|Abbott, Thomas, Silver Street||
|Absolon, John the younger, Jermyn Street||--||--|| |
|Ackermann, Rodolph, Regent Street||
|Anderson, Sir Jas Eglington, New Burlington Street||--||
|Jupp, Robert, Regent Street|| --
|Jupp, Joseph, Regent Street|| --
Good collections of poll books are held at:
- Bodleian Library, Oxford
- British Library
- Family History Library, Salt Lake City both in printed form and on film.
- Guildhall Library
- Institute of Historical Research, University of London
- Society of Genealogists (Newington-Irving).
Others can be found locally at county record offices (who are likely to have any surviving original manuscript lists as well) and reference libraries; some have been reprinted as booklets or on fiches by the Society of Genealogists and FHSs (for example 1775 Surrey) or commercially. Some are found in auctioneers’ catalogues, and Gibson (Poll Books for Sale. Genealogists’ Magazine Vol. 23 #7, page 264, 1990) has interesting commentary on this subject.
Gibson and Rogers’ Poll Books (1990) is the standard listing of extant material, (mainly for parliamentary elections) and where it is held, but much is filmed and hence more accessible for most researchers via the FamilySearch Catalog under the sections termed VOTING REGISTERS for counties and towns. The sections on Great Britain and England just give handbooks and catalogues etc. with little on film as they are still in print and available from FHSs and the Society of Genealogists. Excellent discussion on the subject of poll books can be found in Cannon (Poll Books #2 in Short Guides to Records edited by Lionel M. Munby, 1972), Gibson and Rogers (Poll Books c1696-1872: A Directory to Holdings in Great Britain, 1990), Harvey (Telephones, Ratepayers and Buff Books. Some 19th and 20th century Sources at Guildhall Library. Genealogists’ Magazine Vol. 25 #5, page 177-180, 1996) and Herber (Ancestral Trails, 2003).
Electoral Registers 1832-date
Prior to 1832 the land tax assessments were used as the basis for electoral lists, especially the printed forms 1780-1832. Since 1832 registers of parliamentary electors have been made annually except 1916-1917 and 1940-1944 (when the 1939 list was used). During 1919-1926 and 1945-1949 the registers were compiled twice a year. Electoral registers have always been open to public scrutiny with no closure period, so they are a good source for 20th century research. They are different from poll books in that they record only the entitlement to vote, not the vote itself. The 1832 Reform Act greatly enlarged the county franchise, and necessitated registration of every person qualified to vote in each parish, and the publication of these registers. The qualification to vote was the holding of property and entries give:
- Name of elector.
- Property (owned or leased) that qualified him to vote, with its name and situation in the locality.
Later the registers include voters’ addresses including house number or name.
The franchise was gradually extended so the lists became more comprehensive. Since 1928 they list the names and addresses of all adults who have registered.
Extensive bribery and corruption attended elections until 1872; votes were literally bought, and since your affiliation was in print for all to see, many pressures were brought to bear on electors. The last General Election where who you voted for was noted was in 1868, secret ballots (the free vote) being introduced from 1872. County and borough rate books were compiled from the latter part of the 19th century and were used as the basis for the right to vote in municipal and county elections (see section on rates). Since these were wider than the parliamentary franchise there are more people included, an example is given below.
Chart: 1897 Parochial Electors List Whippingham, Isle of Wight, Hampshire FHL Film 1526198
|| NAMES OF ELECTORS IN FULL, SURNAME BEING FIRST
|| PLACE OF ABODE
|| NATURE OF QUALIFICATION
|| DESCRIPTION OF QUALIFYING PROPERTY|
| OWNERSHIP ELECTORS|
|| Coleman, William Hobday
|| The Rectory, Wooton
|| Freehold benefice
|| The Rectory|
|| Cuthell, Thomas George
|| Oaklawn, Wootton
|| Leasehold house and land
|| Oaklawn, Wootton|
|| Denison, Albert Denison Somerville
|| Army and Navy Club, Pall Mall, London
|| Freehold house and land
| OCCUPATION ELECTORS other than lodgers|
||Barton, George||Wootton Farm||Land and tenement||Wootton Farm|
|182||Barton, William||Wootton Farm||Dwellinghouse||Cottage on Wootton Farm|
|183||Burgess, George||Wootton||Tenement||Part of Wooton Farm|
|184||Coffen, Frederick||Lisle Court Cottage||Dwellinghouse||Lisle Court Cottage|
|188||Gallop, Edward||Fatting Park Farm||Land and tenement||Fatting Park Farm|
|191||Hobbs, William||Wootton||Brickyard||Part of Wootton Farm|
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