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Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Something about voting...

Judging from my blog statistics, about half of my followers might have had just about enough of voting in the here and now. But we genealogists are interested in the records left by ancestors when they voted too - assuming that they could vote of course, which most of them couldn't.

If they could vote you might find them listed in an electoral register or a poll book, Electoral registers are official lists of people eligible to vote, and they were required to be produced annually following the Reform Act of 1832. Poll books could be very different. They were independently published and were only produced where a publisher felt they would be commercially viable. But the main difference is that a poll book  tells you which candidate each person voted for. This came to an end in 1872, when the secret ballot was introduced.

Some poll books are very factual and neutral, recording only the bare facts, but others include detailed accounts of the election campaign, and can be highly partisan (and entertaining).

Some records are now online, but the great majority still have to be consulted in record offices and libraries. You can find local holdings by searching online catalogues like Access to Archives (A2A) for England and Wales or the Scottish Archive Network (SCAN) for Scotland. The Society of Genealogists library also holds a good selection of poll books. The British Library holds the largest single collection of electoral registers and poll books, and their comprehensive guide to the collection Parliamentary Constituencies and their registers since 1832 can now be downloaded from their website as a PDF file, all 371 pages of it!

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