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Lists of Names: Pollbooks and Electoral Registers

Contributed by Stuart A. Raymond

Lists of names are vital sources of information for family and local historians. They can be used to reconstruct historical communities, and to identify particular individuals in time and place. They are particularly valuable where they cover large areas, such as counties - especially if they give locations. Such lists enable you to trace the distribution of surnames across many parishes, and locate the places where particular surnames were to be found at particular dates. Given that information, you can then check the parish registers and other records for those places. This webpage provides a brief explanation of what pollbooks and electoral registers are, what information they contain, where they can be found, and how they can be used. I have also listed a number of facsimile editions which are available for purchase. Finally, I have listed a number of useful websites, including some which index particular pollbooks and registers.

Poll books

Poll books provide extensive information on who voted in parliamentary elections. The earliest is dated 1696; they continued until 1872, when voting was made secret. They record the names of voters, usually their addresses or parishes of residence, and show which candidate(s) they voted for. Sometimes they include other information, such as the occupations of voters, and whether they were resident or out-voters. There is little uniformity in the way in which information is presented. That depended on the whims of the sheriff and his officers who took the poll. Many listed voters by parish, by ward, or by street. Others are idiosyncratic. The London Poll book 1768 is alphabetical, but by companies within each letter of the alphabet. The Westminster Poll book 1774 is a jumble; voters appear to be listed in the order in which they cast their votes! Its successor in 1818 provides an alphabetical list of voters by parish, indicating their residences and occupations. Poll books do not normally have surname indexes, so, unless a place is known, it may be necessary to check every page for a particular surname. Occasionally, places are indexed, as in the Yorkshire Poll book 1807. The place index in the Suffolk Poll book 1710 indicates the number of votes cast for each candidate.

Prior to 1832, the right to vote varied between constituencies. In county constituencies, it was held by every freeholder who possessed land worth forty shillings per annum. In the boroughs, the franchise could be very narrow - Old Sarum only had 11 voters in 1802-3 - or it could be virtual household suffrage. The Westminster Poll book 1774, for example, lists over 7000 voters. County pollbooks generally list thousands of voters; over 5,000 are listed for Suffolk in 1710.

Poll books are invaluable sources of information for both family and local historians, although their limitations need to be recognised. They are rarely indexed, and locating particular names may be a tedious process. They only record the names of people who actually voted, not those who were entitled to vote. And the franchise, as noted above, was mostly limited to the propertied. Given these limitations, there is much to be learnt from them. The researcher can use them to study a wide range of topics, for example, surnames and family history, politics, social structure, and occupations.

Poll books do not survive for every constituency, or for every election. Some were printed; others remain in manuscript. They can be found in most local studies libraries and record offices. There are substantial collections at the Institute of Historical Research, at London's Guildhall Library, and in the British Library. Printed poll books sometimes survive in multiple copies, and can be found in various different repositories. A comprehensive listing is provided by Jeremy Gibson & Colin Rogers, Poll books 1696-1872. A Directory to Holdings in Great Britain (3rd edition, Family History Partnership, 2008). This book also provides a more extensive introduction to their use than can be provided here. Another useful, but less comprehensive, list is provided by John Sims, A Handlist of British Parliamentary Poll book (University of Leicester, History Department and University of California, Riverside, 1984). This is out of print, but can be consulted in libraries. It is supplemented by Edmund M. Green, 'New Discoveries of Poll books', Parliamentary History, vol. 24, issue 3 (2005), p. 332-67.

A handful of poll books have been reprinted in recent years, and are available for purchase (some from this site - see below). A few have been issued on CD.

Electoral Registers

Electoral registers list everyone who was eligible to vote in parliamentary and local elections. They were introduced by the Representation of the People Act 1832; henceforth, the right to vote could only be exercised by those on the register. Registers have been compiled annually since then, except in 1917 and between 1940 and 1944. They did not entirely replace poll books until 1872, when the ballot became secret. As the franchise became wider, so electoral registers became fuller. The 1832 act probably doubled the number of those eligible to vote. Further acts passed in 1867, 1884, 1918 and 1928. Each substantially increased the size of the electorate, and hence the number of names recorded in electoral registers. Electoral registers give the name and 'place of abode' of the voter, and (until 1948) the nature of his/her qualification to vote, together with the names of any tenants. For a few years after 1918, the names of 'absent voters' in the services were noted, with their service details. Separate 'Absent voters' registers can sometimes be found (a handful are available online - see below). Between 1885 and 1915 the names of the landlords of those who qualified on the lodger's franchise were noted. Also noted are the names of those entitled to vote in local government elections, but not for Members of Parliament, and vice versa. Some extant registers include hand-written annotations, such as notes on deaths and removals. Copies of registers originally used by party agents may indicate voting intentions.

Copies of electoral registers can usually be found in local studies libraries. The British Library also has a substantial collection. A full listing of what is available is given in Jeremy Gibson's Electoral Registers 1832-1948 (3rd edition. Family History Partnership, 2008). Its introduction provides more information than can be given here. Full details of British Library holdings are also given in Richard H. A. Cheffins' Constituencies From the Great Reform Act with the British Library's holdings of Burgess Rolls, Poll books and Other Registers (British Library, 1998). A new edition is imminent. Researchers should also consult the British Library's page on United Kingdom Electoral Registers and their Uses.

Electoral registers are probably even more useful to family and local historians than are pollbooks. They are annual, so will show when particular individuals became eligible to vote in a particular place, and when they left that place. Some of the information they provide may lead to other even more valuable sources of information, e.g. the details provided for absent voters may enable you to trace the latter's service records. Using them may be tedious, due to the lack of indexes, but the rewards for both family and local historians may be considerable.

Published Editions

The Family History Partnership is able to supply printed facsimiles of the following pollbooks and electoral registers:

  • London 1768
  • Westminster Poll book 1774
  • Westminster Poll book 1818
  • Westminster Poll book 1841
  • Cambridgeshire Poll book 1780
  • Cambridgeshire Poll book 1802
  • Cambridgeshire Poll book 1831
  • List of the Burgesses of the Borough of Cambridge 1844/5
  • List of the Burgesses of the Borough of Cambridge 1860/61
  • Norfolk Poll book 1768
  • Norfolk Poll book 1806
  • Norfolk Poll book 1817
  • Somerset Electoral Register Eastern Division 1832
  • Somerset Electoral Register Western Division 1832
  • Suffolk Poll book 1710
  • Suffolk Poll book 1790
  • Yorkshire Poll book 1741
  • Yorkshire Poll book 1807
  • Yorkshire West Riding Poll book 1835
  • Hull Poll book 1835

With the exception of the titles for Cambridge and Cambridgeshire (published by Spindrift), these are all published in the Raymonds Original Poll books series by S.A. & M.J. Raymond.

A number of pollbooks are available on CD from the Parish Register Transcriptions Society. These include:

  • Southampton 1734
  • East Kent 1832
  • Westminster 1818
  • Brighton 1847 & 1852
  • Lewes 1802, 1812, & 1826

In addition to these, a number of pollbooks have been published by local record societies. These may be found in major reference libraries, and include:

  • Collett-White, James (ed.). How Bedfordshire Voted, 1685-1735. The Evidence of Local Poll books. Volume 1: 1685-1715. Volume 2: 1715-1734. Bedfordshire Historical Record Society, vols. 85 & 87 (2006-08).
  • Speck, William Arthur & Gray, W. A. (eds.). 'London Poll books 1713' in: Creaton, Heather Janet (ed.), London Politics 1713-1717. London Record Society, vol. 17 (1981), p. 62-129.
  • Read, Myrtle Joyce (ed.). Poll-Books of Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, 1710. Thoroton Society, 1958.
  • Miscellaneous Records. Including Ecclesiastical Returns in East Sussex in 1603. Poll for the election of Knights of the Shire of Sussex in 1705. Calendar of References to Sussex in the Harleian Manuscripts. Extracts from the Episcopal Register of Bishop Praty, 1483-1545. Sussex Record Society, 1905.

Internet Sites

A number of websites offer information on pollbooks and electoral registers. Some of these include editions and/or indexes of pollbooks.

Pollbooks

www.british-genealogy.com/resources/info/pollbooks.html

ahds.ac.uk/history/collections/pollbooks.htm
Digitized data from various counties available offline

English Electoral Polls from the 18th Century

freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~pobjoyoneill/ENGPOLLS/engpolls.htm
Index to pollbooks for Buckinghamshire 1784, Sussex 1734, and Wiltshire 1772

Electoral Registers

United Kingdom Electoral Registers and their Uses

www.bl.uk/reshelp/findhelprestype/offpubs/electreg/electoralregisters.pdf

Sheffield Local Studies Library and Sheffield Archives

www.sheffield.gov.uk/libraries/archives-and-local-studies/what-collections-do-we-have/electoral-registers 
(Go to 'Downloads' at foot of page). This site is of general rather than local interest

Official Electoral Roll Online

www.eroll.co.uk 
UK electoral registers 2003–08 — requires payment

County and Local Sites

Bedfordshire

www.rabancourt.co.uk/abacus/p1722h.html  
1722 Poll book

www.rabancourt.co.uk/abacus/p1784h.html 
people.pwf.cam.ac.uk/jld1/family/p1784h.html
1784 Poll book

Dorset

thedorsetpage.com/Genealogy/info/poll_book.htm 
1807 Poll book

Durham

http://nd.durham.gov.uk/recordoffice/usp.nsf/lookup/pdfhandlists/$file/userguide06.pdf  
Durham County Record Office: Registers of Electors

Durham &
Northumberland

www.tyneandweararchives.org.uk/userguides/17voting.htm 
Voting Records: User guide from Tyne & Wear Archive Service

Glamorganshire

www.glamro.gov.uk/adobe/Electors.pdf 
Electoral registers hald at Glamorgan Record Office

www.swansea.gov.uk/media/pdf/0/6/Electoral_registers.pdf  
Includes map of constituencies

Hampshire

www3.hants.gov.uk/archives/hals-collections/electoral-register.htm  
Holdings of electoral registers at Hampshire Archives and Local Studies

Hertfordshire

www.hertsdirect.org/libsleisure/heritage1/HALS/localhist/electreg/elecregs Electoral registers and pollbooks

Kent

freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~mrawson/poll1832.html 
Maidstone only (1832)

freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~mrawson/poll1845.html 
Maidstone only (1845)

Lancashire

www.pals.org.uk/avl 
Accrington 1918 Absent Voters' List

www.liverpool.gov.uk/Images/tcm21-33446.pdf 
Liverpool Record Office guide to electoral registers and pollbooks

www.liverpool-genealogy.org.uk/1832Pollbook/Pollbook1832.htm

Lancashire & Cheshire

www.tameside.gov.uk/archives/absentvoters 
Guide to absent voters' lists at Tameside Local Studies Centre

Lincolnshire

www.angelfire.com/de/delighted/voters.html 
Absent Voters in Grimsby & Cleethorpes in 1919

London & Middlesex

www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=38807  
London pollbook, 1713 (from a London Record Society publication - see above)

www.hamersleyfamily.com/westminsterpollbook1749.htm 
Index of 9,300 names

http://217.154.230.218/NR/rdonlyres/37CAD668-217E-46C2-B877-DFA02B3C7D9D/0/infono21.pdf 
Electoral registers at London Metropolitan Archives

Northern Ireland

www.proni.gov.uk/your_family_tree_series_-_10_-_voters__poll_and_freeholders_records.pdf  
Voters, Poll and Freeholders Records

Northumberland

www.newcastle.gov.uk/wwwfileroot/localstudies/genealogy/GENE6Pol.pdf 
Newcastle City Council: Electoral Registers and Pollbooks

Nottinghamshire

www.charliespage.co.uk/pollbookindex.htm

Renfrewshire

www.renfrewshire.gov.uk/ilwwcm/publishing.nsf/Content/els-pl-electoral-registers-voters-rolls-and-valuation-rolls 
Electoral Registers, Voters' Rolls, and Valuation Rolls

Yorkshire

www.barnsleyfhs.co.uk/1835a-c.html 
Barnsley Pollbook 1835 (continued on 5 further pages)

www.calderdale.gov.uk/wtw/sources/sourcetypes/elec_registers.html 
Digitised registers for Halifax, 1832-90

www.leeds.gov.uk/Do_It_Online/page.aspx?pageidentifier=fcc07d76-c701-49c3-acc3-4384d38390b3 
Leeds Absent Voters' List (1918)

www.northyorks.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=4332 
"What are Pollbooks and where can I find my nearest published election record?" (North Yorkshire County Council"

www.sheffield.gov.uk/libraries/archives-and-local-studies/what-collections-do-we-have/poll-books 
List of Sheffield Pollbooks

ann.greycomp.co.uk/Poll%20Book%201741.htm 
Transcript for Sheffield area, 1741

www.wakefieldfhs.org.uk/abscent%20voters.htm  
Brief discussion of absent voters' list for Wakefield constituency, 1918

www.rotherhamweb.co.uk/genealogy/eregisters.htm 
Brief history of West Riding Electoral Registers

Corrections and Additions

If you have any corrections or additions for this page, please let me know. I can be contacted at samjraymond@btopenworld.com

 

Further Information

This page offers a basic introduction to pollbooks and electoral registers. Much more information on them, including comprehensive listings, can be found in two Gibson guides. Click on the following titles for details:

Electoral Registers 1832-1948 (Jeremy Gibson)

Poll Books 1696-1872 (Jeremy Gibson & Colin Rogers)

Many pollbooks have been reprinted in facsimile, and are available from the Family History Partnership.

 

 

     

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