Have you ever wondered about elections of the past and how they influenced our ancestors’ lives? What issues were important to the men and women in our family trees? What challenges did they face when it came to exercising their right to vote? And in the case of minorities, women, immigrants and the poor, what it was like to have that right be limited or completely denied.
One way for us to explore this interesting topic is by looking back at the records these voters left behind — and Voting Registers offer an exciting way to do that. Voting Registers are lists of those people in a geographic location that were eligible to vote, and many of them are available to family historians in some form or another.
What information can I find about my ancestors in Voting Registers?
Turns out, quite a bit. Many registers read like a census — with full names, ages, addresses, locations of birth and even occupations recorded. The most interesting ones include all of these details and more — whereas some simpler versions may contain fewer facts. Because these registers were often laid out alphabetically, members of the same household are usually listed together. This gives us an opportunity to explore family relationships as well.
Of course, these records are also limited. Generally, registers are only available after the mid 1800s and often not until the late nineteenth or early 20th centuries. And because many groups of people were excluded from voting at various points in American history, a good deal of people are simply not included.
Still, this often overlooked record can become an important addition to your family tree — helping you add fascinating new information to your files.
How can I locate Voting Registers for genealogical use?
Unfortunately, these records are fairly hard to find online for free. FamilySearch does offer a browsable collection of records from Jackson County Missouri here (1928-1955) and a good deal of information is recorded for those lucky enough to have ancestors from this area. We hope to see more in the future.
The following record section comes from this collection.
Ancestry, MyHeritage and other paid sites also offer some collections online, but you’ll need to have a subscription to access them. Here is an example record from one of the early 20th century California voter registers found on Ancestry.
To locate more voter registers for free you’ll have to do some digging — and very likely you’ll need to go offline for some of your research.
The absolute best way we have found to locate voting registers is to visit the research wikis on FamilySearch. A search for “voting registers” will bring up helpful pages about what records were created, and where you can find them online and off. Add in your specific location of interest for more specific results.
Registers for some locations can be found online for free through sites like RootsWeb and many can be found at no cost by using a local FamilySearch Center in your area. If you do not know how to use a FamilySearch Center you can find the information you need in this helpful article.
Local historical and genealogical societies and libraries may also make these collections available or can tell you where to find them. Use your favorite search engine to search for these records in your area — try the tips from this article on Google searches to refine your results and find what you need.
Although you may need to put some extra effort into locating these somewhat elusive records, Voting Registers are not to be missed and may provide exciting new details about your ancestors.
Image of Voting Machine: “New time saving voting machine designed to U.S. Capitol employee. Washington, D.C., May 10. Until Jurgensen, Jr., a tally clerk in the House of Representatives designed this electric voting machine it took at least three months, using the old rubber stamp system, to compile the voting records of the 435 members of the House. Recording the yeas and nays, absent and present, paired for and paired against votes of each individual member, the machine which is similar to an adding machine, does the same job in less than two weeks. Greater accuracy is assured in counting votes with Jurgensen-designed machine, 5-10/38” 1938. Library of Congress
Featured Image: “The County Election” by George Caleb Bingham
Article by Melanie Mayo, Family History Daily Editor