Electoral Registers are annually compiled lists of persons entitled to vote within a designated area. They can be useful in locating individuals or studying the composition and development of communities in particular streets and localities.
Although parliamentary representation dates back many hundreds of years, before 1832 the electorate was small, restricted to larger landowners in the countryside, and merchants in those towns which were 'parliamentary boroughs'. Electoral registers were first created in 1832 as a result of the Great Reform Act, 1832. Strict voting qualifications – based on land ownership – meant that at this date just 1% of the adult population could vote, all of them male. Representation of the People Acts in later in the 19th century extended the right to vote to more of the male population but, even so, only 58% of adult males were entitled to vote by 1911.
The Representation of the People Act 1918 extended the vote to all males over the age of 21 and, for the first time, to women over the age of 30. Ten years later, this was extended to all women over the age of 21.
1918, therefore, marks a cut off point in the composition and potential use of electoral registers as an historical source. Before this date, the registers may be of particular use in tracing land ownership and details of the wealthier male inhabitants of a locality. They may be used to confirm (or question) details recorded about such people in the censuses and may help to fill in the gaps between these national surveys. After 1918, electoral registers allow the researcher to investigate patterns of settlement (such as the arrival or dispersal of particular communities) and the composition of a particular community or area population at a given date. For the house historian, the registers can show who was living at a specific address and how long they were there.
It is important to note that, unlike the census, electoral registers list only those of legal age to vote (21 years of age until 1967, 18 years of age thereafter) and that voters who had not registered locally are not included. Generally speaking, electoral lists were drawn up some six months before they were published, so in some cases residents may have moved away in the meantime. Electoral registers do not provide biographical details of individuals (such as place of birth or occupation), nor do they show family relationships. They do not indicate where residents have come from or where they move afterwards.
For further information about the Archive Service's holdings of Electoral Registers, please request our free guide in PDF format from Staffordshire Record Office.