Electoral Registers in England and Wales

Electoral Registers are lists of people eligible to vote and have been compiled annually since 1832, with the exception of 1916-1917 and 1940-1944 because of the First and Second World Wars.  Up to 1918 the books list electors by name, address and eligibility to vote.  

Up until the end of the 19th century, this was largely dependent on property ownership.  Even if you met the criteria, you still had to register in order to become eligible to vote.

Books from 1832 had to be deposited with the Clerk of the Peace.  He was responsible for the records of Quarter Sessions and the framing of indictments.  They were able to advise Justices of the Peace as they had legal training.

In the early 19th century the electorate was listed alphabetically by place but as the electorate grew, names were grouped by electoral wards and these are not indexed, so to make the most out of the registers you have to know where your relative lived, especially if they lived in a large town or city.  

If you know the person's address the electoral roll may be a big help to you because it lists all the adult occupants of a household at the given date, but only on rare occasions does it give their ages, occupations or list their relationship to each other. You can also use these books as a means of finding out whether your ancestors moved house, and if they did, the time period in which they moved.

Women obtained the right to vote from 1918, but only those over 30, householders, or the wives of householders were eligible.  In 1928 all adults over 21, regardless of sex, could vote in elections.  In 1969, all people over 18 could vote.

It could take up to six months for a register to be published, so it may include someone who had died during the intervening period.

You cannot photograph or photocopy an electoral register until 10 years after it was published because of the Representation of the People and Data Protection legislation.

Abbreviations in the Registers

Some abbreviations are listed in the Registers as follows:

  • B: Business Premises Qualification
  • Bw: Business Premises Qualification (Women)
  • D: Qualification through occupation of Spouse
  • Dw: Qualification through occupation of Spouse (women)
  • HO: Qualification through the occupation of their husband
  • NM: Naval or Military
  • O: Occupation Qualification
  • Ow: Occupation Qualification (Women)
  • R: Residence Qualification
  • Rw: Residence Qualification (Women)

Where can I consult Electoral Registers?

You are advised to go to your local Record Office to consult the books, because they may have electoral rolls covering a wide area of their county.

There are also many registers at the British Library at 96 Euston Road, London, but their collection is only complete from 1947 onwards.  If travelling by tube, the nearest stations are Euston (Northern line) and Kings Cross (Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines, Northern line, Piccadilly line and Victoria line), which are also national railway stations.

Registers are also available in the London Metropolitan Archives, who hold registers for the London County Council area.

A complete collection of Electoral Registers is not available in the National Archives.

Poll Books

Poll Books date from 1700 and continue until 1872, when the secret ballot was introduced.  Before this date, it was common knowledge who a person had voted for.

Poll Books include the voter's name, sometimes also including their occupation and/or address.  They can sometimes list voters in name order, by address, or by the order in which they cast their vote.  Some poll books also list people who did not vote separately.

These books name the voter, and who they voted for.  They also then list their qualification,  such as F for freehold, L for leasehold, C for copyhold or O for occupier.

Unfortunately, however, Poll Books do not list all an area's residents.  Until 1832, only those who owned property were eligible to vote.

> Electoral Registers