In the U.S., you have to be citizen to vote. Before the 1820's you had to own property to vote. It wasn't until the 15th Amendment in 1870 that African American males could vote, and the 19th Amendment extended voting rights to women in 1920. There were a few states that had given women the right to vote in local elections prior to the 19th Amendment, but those were the exceptions. Natives Americans' voting rights varied according to time period, location, and tribal status.
Voter registration records are among the most under-utilized by family historians. They aren't discussed in most basic genealogy books. They can be the hardest records to locate. Perhaps that is why they are under-utilized.
So why go to the trouble of searching for voter registrations? They can help fill in the blanks in your family's history. Information found in the records can include:
- Name, including middle names.
- Date of Birth
- Place of Residence
- Further tract your ancestor's residences between census years.
- Find a spouse. If two adults are registered at the same location with the same surname, a familial relationship can be surmised.
- Place of birth. During the 1800's place of birth is listed.
- Find naturalization information if your ancestor wasn't born a citizen.
- Estimate the year of immigration.
- Physical description.
- Political affiliation. Usually, Democratic or Republican, but other parties can be listed as well.
- Migration - Some registrations include how long they lived in the state, county & precinct.
- Find other family members.
|1940 California Voter Registration showing Ronald Reagan as a DEMOCRAT!|
Notice that it includes his address and his occupation.
|This 1954 list still shows Reagan as a Democrat, but now he is listed with his wife, Nancy.|
Reagan did not become a Republican until 1962.
Where you will find voter registration lists:
- Some are available on Ancestry.com and Ancestry Library Edition. That is where I discovered the Reagan listings above. California in particular has most of their lists up to 1968 online.
- FamilySearch.org web site or through their microfilm lending program. That is where I located several of my TAGG family members. Ohio had quadrennial censuses every 4 years from 1803-1911. Look on the site's link to the catalog of microfilm holdings.
- Cyndi's List: http://www.cyndislist.com/voters/locality/ As always, Cyndi does an incredible job of locating THE best web sites. Her site includes a lot of foreign voter's lists.
- County court house records for the Board of Elections in the locality your ancestor's lived.
- Try your favorite search engine. Use the locality and "voting records" and see what turns up.
- A GenWeb site with links to voting and tax records: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~tqpeiffer/Documents/Free%20Gen%20Records%20&%20Databases/TAX%20&%20VOTER%20Records.htm
So the next time you hit one of those inevitable brick walls, why not try researching voter registration lists for a break through?
- Family History Daily overview of Voting Registers: http://familyhistorydaily.com/genealogy-help-and-how-to/voting-registers-for-genealogy/
- Genealogy Today blog: https://www.genealogytoday.com/articles/reader.mv?ID=880
- The Ancestor Hunt article: http://www.theancestorhunt.com/blog/9-reasons-why-you-should-be-researching-voter-records-a-hidden-gem#.WTWvuuvyuM8
- A Genealogy Insider article: http://blog.familytreemagazine.com/insider/2010/11/02/TracingAncestorsInVoterRecords.aspx