Absent voters lists

By Judith Phillips

I was planning on writing a short article about the Absent Voters lists even before our Ancestry subscription arrived, so this is very opportune.  Every year a list of people eligible to vote in elections was published (electoral roll).  Many electoral rolls included a section of ‘Absent Voters’, that is, people who had a right to vote in a place (probably as house owner) but lived elsewhere.

The last election before war broke out was in 1910, and the following year, the maximum length of a parliament was fixed at 5 years.  After war broke out, the election due by 1915 was deferred.  The Representation of the People Act, passed in 1918, gave the vote to women over the age of 30 and to all men aged 21.  New electoral rolls were compiled and published to include about 2 million men and 8.4 million women (and remove men who had died during the war).  Men and women who were serving abroad or away from their home in Great Britain went into the absent voters lists.  Because of the huge numbers, the absent voters lists were published separately  (or as a supplement) to the main electoral roll.

For WWI researchers, they can be a goldmine.  People are listed alphabetically under the town or village they usually lived in but the entries give so much more  information:

  • First name and surname
  • Usual address
  • Military number
  • Service unit
  • Rank

A quick glance at the Absent Voters list for Barnard Castle in 1918, for example, showed that the Carter sisters were both serving with the St. John’s Ambulance Service in the Voluntary aid detachment (VAD).  You will find their story here on the project website www.thebowesmuseumww1.org.uk under Stories.

So we’re hoping to find plenty more stories as we work through the Absent Voters lists and check the information in the sources we now have available through Ancestry.