If you're interested in using modern electoral registers (often referred to as electoral rolls) for tracing living people then you should jump to this page.
Finally for more details on Poll Books which came before modern Electoral Registers, visit this page, including links to a large number of preserved Poll Books which can be viewed online and for free.
Over the past few years as more and more people have becoming interested in genealogy and tracing their family history, tracking down their ancestors, most people have concentrated on the core records, those recording Births Marriages and Deaths whether government indexes or church and parish records and the Census, a snapshot taken every 10 years of families.
The particular problem in the United Kingdom is those people trying to complete their trees for the first half of the 20th century, from the early 1900s on. We have the 1911 census for England, Wales and Scotland but despite petitions and the like there's no sign yet that the government will release the 1921 census until the 100 years is up, that is on the 1st January 2022. Worse, for England and Wales the 1931 census was lost in a fire, more details here, and none was taken in 1941 because of the second world war so from the 1920s until the 1950s there's a big gap.
However there is one set of records that can help fill the gap and that is the Electoral Registers. These have been always been available for most areas in the local record offices but the problem is that they are not generally indexed so they are only of use, firstly if you can get to the record office you want and secondly you know the rough address you're looking for.
However now, they are starting to be indexed and put on line which changes everything. Findmypast were first in November 2011 with the Cheshire Electoral Records covering the period 1842-1900 and about four million names. Ancestry quickly followed in January 2012 with the London Electoral Registers covering the period 1835 to 1965. Findmypast are also working in conjunction with the British Library to index their substantial collection of Electoral Registers and also are planning to add those for Manchester.
With both of these organisations, you have pay to view all the details but a free trial subscription is usually available.
Electoral Registers have been a legal requirement since 1832, listing everyone who was eligible to vote in national and local elections, usually published annually. They give the name of the voter, their address and until 1948 what was their qualification to be on the list of voters. In the early days only a limited proportion of the (male) population were entitled to vote and thus only their names appear in the register, By the end of the first world war, 1918, nearly all men over the age of 21 had the right to vote. The vote was extended to all women over 30 in 1918, and finally in 1928 this was reduced to 21, in line with men.
There's more details of the changes over the years here.
This is an example of one page on Findmypast of a Cheshire Register from the late 1800s (I've obscured the surnames to respect the copyright of the images).
Poll Books go back further and they in general list who voted at elections and who they voted for. The earliest ones are from around 1700 and they continued until 1872 when the secret ballot was introduced. While all poll books record the name of the voter, some also record other information such as occupation and/or address. The order of names also vary, sometimes by address, sometimes by name, sometimes by the order in which their vote was cast, and of course since they are a record of votes cast, they do not include the name of those, while eligible to vote, did not in fact cast their vote.
See here for more details about Poll Books, including links to a large number of preserved Poll Books which can be viewed for free.
We always welcome any comments, suggestions or corrections - you can contact us at