Welcome, fellow genealogists! My blog will teach you about U.S. land records and United Kingdom research. My family has roots in Niagara County, New York; Norfolk, England; and northeast Germany.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wisdom Wednesday: UK Voting Records – An Introduction

This post is the first in a series about voters’ records in the UK. Because they list addresses, the members of a family of voting age, and land ownership and leasing details, genealogists can use them as an alternative to the census and to further their understanding of land records.

The United Kingdom has kept voting records, called Poll Books, Burgess Books or Rolls, and Electoral Registers, depending on the time period. Poll books are generally early records of those who voted and how they voted in parliamentary elections. Secret ballots did not begin until 1872.
Burgess books or rolls listed the freemen of a borough who were often entitled to vote for members of parliament and for members of the borough corporation. Note: A borough is a self-governing place with a corporation and privileges granted by a royal charter. This term has wider uses today; see www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borough.

Since 1832, electoral registers of people eligible to vote in parliamentary elections have been compiled annually, with the exception of the war years: 1916-1917, 1940-1944. They were compiled twice a year from 1919 to 1926 and again from 1945 to 1949. Registers for voters in local elections were kept was well, such as those for county council kept since 1889.
Voting was not secret?! Before telling you how to find these registers and books, it may help to discuss the differences in voting between the UK and North America because they can be distracting when working with this data.

            Voting Age
Until 1971, men could vote when they reached age 21. Since then, the voting age is reduced to 18 years. The exceptions were soldiers and sailors age 19 and 20 after World War I. Women over age 30 got the vote in 1918. That age was reduced to 21 in 1928 and 18 in 1971.

Who was qualified to vote varied between the counties and the boroughs in the UK, and the various boroughs had customs that widely varied with each other. To be simplistic, citizens could vote if they were of legal age, and owned or rented property, based on the value of the real estate or the amount of rent paid. The necessary values were changed over time.

            Plural Voting
You might find an ancestor on more than one voting list and wonder how that can be. In 1948, ‘One man, One vote’ became the law of the land. Before that year, there were three geographic categories; residence, business and university. You could vote in all three before 1918 and between 1918 and 1948, in two of the three.

_____________. UK Electoral Registers and Their Uses. London: British Library, Social Sciences Collection Guides, Official Publications. www.bl.uk/socialsciences
Gibson, Jeremy and Colin Rogers. Electoral Registers. Birmingham, UK: Federation of Family History Societies, 1990.

Herber, Mark. Ancestral Trails. Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2006.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Wisdom Wednesday: Gretna Green Elopement

In the second season of Downton Abbey, Lady Sybil Crawley and the chauffeur, Tom Branson, headed for Gretna Green, Scotland, with plans to elope. Since Lord Grantham’s estate is in Yorkshire, if any of us North American’s were listening carefully, it probably seemed they were just heading for the nearest border where marriage laws were different.

Indeed that was the case, but people came from further away to marry in this first town inside Scotland on the main road from London to Edinburgh. In fact, the phrase “Gretna Green Elopement” came to mean any marriage ceremony performed without complete parental approval away from the local parish church. The village today advertises itself to couples wanting a destination wedding, similar to Las Vegas without the neon.
For genealogists with English families, it might pay to look at the Scottish records if you are having trouble finding a marriage in the south.

In 1754, the Hardwicke Marriage Act declared that brides and grooms under age 21 needed parental approval and all weddings needed to be performed in a Church of England. However, the laws of Scotland differed and much younger teens could marry without permission. About fifteen years later, Gretna Green had become the border town most known for these ceremonies.
Scottish law allowed for "irregular marriages", meaning that if a declaration was made before two witnesses, almost anybody had the authority to conduct the marriage ceremony. The blacksmiths in Gretna became known as "anvil priests" because the blacksmith’s shop was at the main crossroads in town, and the smithie performed so many marriages over his anvil. (wikipedia, Gretna Green)