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• Polling districts are not the same as parish districts. It can be difficult to cross reference parish records with electoral records because a single polling district could overlap into several parish districts and visa versa. As well, in some countries the polling district for the local government elections could be different from the polling district for provincial or national governments.

• Polling districts also changed over time as election boundaries were redrawn due to population growth and other factors. Therefore, it is possible to have an ancestor change electoral districts over time even though they resided at the same address.

• Some countries (such as the UK and Scotland) did not produce electoral rolls during parts of World War I and II.

• Historically, the civil right to vote (known as suffrage) was much more narrowly defined than it is today. In most jurisdictions around 1850 the only eligible voters were male, landowners and of the age of majority. This typically only represented about 5 to 10% of the population. Over time, however, the voter list was expanded to include tenant farmers, renters, soldiers and former slaves. By about 1890 most men were eligible to vote in most countries. Women, however, did not broadly receive the right to vote in many English-speaking countries until the twentieth century (unless they were major land owners). The list below shows the date when all women were eligible to vote (and thus would appear in electoral rolls):

Country
Year All Women Eligible to Vote
   
United States
1920
Canada
1919 (Quebec 1940)
UK
1928
Australia
1902 (SA 1894, WA 1899)
New Zealand
1893

 

Where to Find Historic Electoral Rolls

The major online collections of electoral rolls are as follows:

UK

1. Ancestry.co.uk has put online a collection of London electoral rolls that covers the period 1835 to 1965 and for Dorset (1839 to 1922).

2. The British Library keeps a complete online collection of UK electoral rolls from 1947 onwards. It also has some 20,000 registers offline covering the period 1832 to 1931. It should always be consulted if you have difficulty finding electoral rolls at the local library.

3. FindMyPast has electoral rolls for Cheshire (1842 to 1900). The big news, however, is that FindMyPast is in the process of digitizing the entire British Library collection of electoral rolls. This massive collection is expected to go online in 2012. Thus, electoral rolls will play a much larger role in UK genealogical research in the future.

4. FamilySearch has electoral rolls for Norfolk (1844 to 1952) and Cheshire (1842 to 1900).

5. The National Archives does not have an online collection of electoral rolls, but it does provide an online guide. To search for local collections of online/offline electoral rolls, use ARCHON.

6. The UK government actually sells its current electoral roll. There are several subscription websites that will allow you to search these more recent lists (FindMyPast’s Living Relatives, ukroll.com, 192.com, tracesmart.co.uk, eroll.co.uk and peopletraceonline.co.uk). None of these websites, however, have electoral rolls that go back more than 25 years from the present.

Scotland

1. Ancestry.co.uk has put out the Fife Voters List (1832 to 1894). One nice thing about this collection is that it lists the occupation of the voter.

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