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Poll Books

Nature of Source

Poll books provide a list of electors (confined to male adults over the age of 21) and who they voted for in parliamentary (Members of Parliament or ‘Knights of the Shire’), county and borough elections (from 1843) together with details of their entitlement to vote, measured by land and income. Eligibility was linked to property ownership and local customs but in some areas most adult males had the vote. Land Tax Assessments were used to determine eligibility.

The records begin in 1694 following an Act which stipulated that eligible voters (freeholders) be recorded along with the qualifying property and the person or persons voted for. Most poll books were printed after the vote had taken place.

The Representation of the People Act 1832, commonly known as the Reform Act for the first time modestly extended the vote to non-property owning males. The Act widened the franchise to include those renting property at an annual rate of £10 or more a year but still only covered about 15 per cent of the male population. The Act introduced Electoral Registers which recorded the names of all those entitled to vote and not just those who voted.

The demise of poll books happened in 1872 following the introduction of the Secret Ballot Act. The Act abolished recording the names of voters and the recipients of their votes, effectively ending the sometimes corrupting influence of open ballots.

The original manuscript copies were kept by the clerks of the peace, however in 1907 the entire centralised collection was arbitrarily destroyed and all that survives are those published by local printers after the poll. Some original manuscript copies may exist amongst the Quarter Session records. In larger urban areas the cost of printing poll books deterred publishers leaving many largely populated urban areas without records. Poll books can be used as a source for locating an individual and his place of residence in-between the census years, before the censuses began or after the latest available census of 1911.

Poll books usually only a contain a small proportion of the population and only record those who actually voted. Therefore consider other polls such as those for Poor Law Guardians and School Board Members and parish elections for which all ratepayers could vote. Smaller polls were published in local newspapers. Poll books were often hastily produced which resulted in mistakes being made with the spelling of names. Poll books come in a variety of formats and layouts which can be confusing with some arranged alphabetically by name or by parish or ward.

Secret ballots were introduced in 1872. After 1894 all ratepayers regardless of gender or wealth were entitled to vote in parish elections for which electoral registers were produced. The elector could have belonged to a guild or other types of fraternal societies or have been a freeman so consult freeman rolls and membership registers.

See also
Directories, Trade, Professional, Telephone & Street
Electoral Registers
Freemason Records
Guilds, Freedoms & Freemen's or Burgess Rolls
Jurors' Lists/Freeholders' Lists

Where Found

Institute of Historical Research (The Institute houses a collection of printed primary sources covering the history of western Europe including collections of poll books for the United Kingdom. Search the online catalogue for details of their holdings of poll books)
British Library (See the guides below and search the library catalogue for details of their holdings of poll books)
Guildhall Library (Printed poll books)
Bodleian Library (The Bodleian Library is the main research library of the University of Oxford with their holdings including estate records, deeds, rolls and maps. Their activities can be followed on Facebook and Twitter)
Society of Genealogists (Directories & Poll Books covering counties in England, Scotland and Wales. The holdings include a typescript document comprising a name index of out-of-county voters called ‘Index to voters residing in a county other than that in which their freehold was situated, 1702-1807’)
County Record Offices
The National Archive Library (Printed poll books)
London Metropolitan Archives (Most counties in London & Middlesex)
National Records of Scotland (The National Records of Scotland was created on 1 April 2011 by the amalgamation of the National Archives of Scotland [NAS] and General Register Office for Scotland [GROS])
National Library of Wales
LDS FamilySearch Centers (Filmed copies of poll books and electoral registers)

Period Covered

1696 - 1872

Genealogical Value

Name of voter; District (some polls are listed by town, parish, ward, street or hundred); Address (occasionally full address shown and also note that the place of abode might be different to qualifying address); Qualifying freehold address with nature or type of freehold (the type of freehold is usually abbreviated, see here for a list of abbreviations); Details of votes cast; Occupation (borough elections only); Names of tenants and occupiers; Names of candidates (full names are given on the title page)

Further References

Cheffins, Richard H. A. Parliamentary constituencies and their registers since 1832: a list of constituencies from the Great Reform Act with the British Library's holdings of electoral registers together with the Library's holdings of burgess rolls, poll books and other registers: British Library, 1998 (Available to download here)

 

Collett-White, James (ed). How Bedfordshire Voted, 1685-1735: The Evidence of Local Poll Books: Bedfordshire Historical Record Society, 2008

 

Gibson, Jeremy & Rogers, Colin. Poll Books, c. 1696-1872: A Directory of Holdings in Great Britain: Federation of Family History Societies, 1994 (Preview available at Google Books)

 

Munby, Lionel M. & Thompson, Kathryn (eds) Short Guides to Records: First Series-Guides 1-24: The Historical Association, 1994

 

Raymond, Stuart A. Various county coverage see here for more details.

 

Sims, John. A Handlist of British Parliamentary Poll Books: University of Leicester, 1984

 

Directories & Poll Books, including Almanacs & Electoral Rolls, in the Library of the Society of Genealogists: SoG, 1995

 


The EurekA Partnership
: Various titles containing transcriptions of Poll Book records covering Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Surrey, Warwickshire and Worcestershire

Websites

www.bl.uk/reshelp/pdfs/ReaderGuide8.pdf (British Library Reader Guide: Researching Your Family History)
www.bl.uk/reshelp/findhelprestype/refworks/genealogyref/genealogy.html#POLL (Genealogy: reference sources: Poll books and electoral registers)
www.bl.uk/reshelp/findhelprestype/offpubs/electreg/parliamentary/parliamentaryconstituencies.pdf (British Library: Parliamentary constituencies and their registers since 1832)
www.electoralregisters.org.uk
(Information about electoral registers, electoral rolls, poll books from 1700 to the present day, how to access the registers online, how to make the most from your searches, what is available and not available, and much more)
http://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Poll_Books_in_England_and_Wales (FamilySearch Research Wiki: Poll Books in England and Wales)
www.reading.ac.uk/web/FILES/special-collections/featurepollbooks2.pdf (University of Reading Special Collections Services: Poll books, by Carol Speirs)
www.thefamilyhistorypartnership.com/hints-tips/lists-of-names-pollbooks-and-electoral-registers.php
(Lists of Names: Pollbooks and Electoral Registers, by Stuart A. Raymond)
http://217.154.230.218/NR/rdonlyres/37CAD668-217E-46C2-B877-DFA02B3C7D9D/0/infono21.pdf (LMA Information leaflet: Electoral Registers including a summary of the poll book holdings)
https://wiki.familysearch.org/en/Poll_Books_in_England_and_Wales (Guide to Poll Books)
http://freespace.virgin.net/owston.tj/franch.htm (The Developing Franchise - British Isles)
www.cyndislist.com/voters (Cyndi's List: Voters, Poll Books, Electoral Records)
www.british-genealogy.com/books-records/pollbooks.html (British-Genealogy.com: Poll Books)
www.parishchest.com (Links to companies and organisations selling poll book data)
www.genfair.co.uk (Links to companies and organisations selling poll book data)

Online Databases

Online Catalogues (Listing of online catalogues for the partial whereabouts of records including Access to Archives [A2A])
www.ancestry.co.uk (UK, Poll Books and Electoral Registers, 1538-1893, provided in association with the London Metropolitan Archives and Guildhall Library. This database contains poll books and other documents listing names of voters in various elections in England)
www.ancestry.co.uk
(Poll Books: Datasets include Midlands, Electoral Registers, 1832-1955. This database contains voters lists including electoral registers, burgess rolls, poll books, and absent voters lists for Birmingham and some of north Warwickshire; Dorset Register of Electors and Poll Books, 1839-1922. Provided in association with the Dorset History Centre)
www.ancestry.co.uk (London, Electoral Registers, 1832-1965, provided in association with the London Metropolitan Archives and Guildhall Library. This database contains selected annual lists of names and residences of people in London who were eligible to vote in elections)
www.findmypast.co.uk (England, Pollbooks and Directories 1830-1837. Online access to various pollbooks and directories covering a number of counties. The collection includes access to The Quaker Annual Monitor which lists all the British Quakers who died within the last twelve months and can include obituaries with short biographies)
www.londonlives.org (London Lives: Westminster Poll Books and Rate Books, 1749-1820)
www.thedorsetpage.com/Genealogy/info/poll_book.htm (Dorset Poll Book, 1807)
www.genhound.co.uk (Genhound: Datasets include West Kent constituency Poll Book, 1837; Hull Poll Book, 1830, 1835; Yorkshire West Riding Poll Book, 1835. See web site for complete coverage)
www.sog.org.uk/search-records (SoG Data Online: Poll Books: County coverage includes: Berkshire; Buckinghamshire; Cambridgeshire; Cheshire; Cumberland; Derbyshire; Devon; Dorset; Durham; Essex; Gloucestershire; Hampshire; Herefordshire; Huntingdonshire; Kent; Lancashire; Leicestershire; Lincolnshire; Middlesex; Norfolk; Northamptonshire; Northumberland; Nottinghamshire; Oxfordshire; Scotland; Shropshire; Somerset; Suffolk; Surrey; Sussex; Wales; Warwickshire; Westminster; Westmorland; Wiltshire; Worcestershire; Yorkshire. Members of the Society of Genealogists are able to view these records for free via their existing membership. Non-members can carry out free surname searches but will need to join the society to view the full record details)
www.thegenealogist.co.uk (Poll Book: Online access to poll book transcripts and searchable poll books covering the following places and counties: Bath; Berkshire; Bristol; Durham; Kent; Monmouthshire; Newcastle upon Tyne; Norfolk; Northamptonshire; Northumberland; Suffolk; Westminster; Yorkshire)
www.theoriginalrecord.com (Data sets include an Essex Poll Book from 1810)  
www.liverpool-genealogy.org.uk/1832Pollbook/Pollbook1832.htm (Liverpool Poll Book, 1832, transcribed and indexed by Martin Slater)
www.nottingham.ac.uk/manuscriptsandspecialcollections/learning/dukeofnewcastle/supportingresources/1846pollbookonline.aspx (1846 Poll Book for the South Nottinghamshire election)
www.sheffieldrecordsonline.org.uk (Sheffield Records Online: 1835 West Riding Poll; 1848 West Riding Poll)
http://abacus.rabancourt.co.uk/bedfordshire-pollbook-1784 (Pollbook of Bedfordshire 1784, prepared by Dr John Dawson of Abacus Genealogy Research. This is a transcript of the Pollbook, record of voting, taken on 7-19 April 1784 in Bedford, for elections in Bedfordshire)
www.fhs-online.co.uk (Family History Societies Online: Worcestershire Poll Books)
www.hunimex.com/warwick/index.html
(Pickard's Pink Pages for Warwickshire:  Warwickshire freeholder and voter lists and Coventry heads of households)

Many poll books are published by local Family History Societies and other local groups. Always try searching the internet for poll books with the name of the area being researched. Digitised editions of printed poll books may be found at the Internet Archive or at Google Books. Also look for poll book transcriptions at the individual county pages at GENUKI.

CD Roms

Archive CD Books (Poll books for various towns and counties. A number of titles covering poll books are available as digital downloads)
S & N Genealogy Supplies (Poll books covering London, Westminster, Northumberland, Norfolk, Suffolk, Sussex, York, Yorkshire)
UK Genealogy Archives (Register of Electors - Calne, Wilts 1853; The Poll Book for West Norfolk, 1865)
Back To Roots (Poll books for Norfolk, 1817; Norwich, 1768; Frome in Somerset, 1896; Gloucestershire, 1832)
www.midlandshistoricaldata.org (North Warwickshire Poll Books, 1832 & 1835)
The Parish Register Transcription Society (Indexes and transcriptions of Poll Books including Southampton, East Kent, Westminster, Brighton, Sussex, Lewes)
Anguline Research Archives (Check website for county covereage)
Flatcapsandbonnets.com (Scanned historical and genealogical county book collections on DVD including parish registers, marriage allegations/licenses, directories, paupers in workhouses in 1861, lists of emigrants from England to the USA and Caribbean 1773-76, visitations, poll books. See web site for county coverage and source material)

Others produced at a local level.