The Somerset Electoral Registers can provide you with unique information about where your ancestors lived. Find out if they rented or owned their homes and businesses and trace changes of address year by year. You can even find clues to the nature of their business and how prosperous they were.
Each entry follows a set format and there will be numerous entries on each PDF page. Please take note that only those who were qualified to vote are listed here, restricted to men who owned or leased a certain amount of property. The amount of information sometimes varies but you can find the following about your ancestor.
Address of qualifying property
Nature of property
Whether the property was owned or leased
Nature of the lease
The electoral registers are presented in PDF format, which means that you can search the whole text, an advantage if you either have no address or only have their home address, since people often registered to vote from somewhere other than their abode.
The original printed registers are organized by polling district, and then by parish, with electors listed alphabetically in separate tables for each type of property qualification.
When you search for your ancestor you will be brought to the page where their entry is. Each entry gives the full name of the voter, the exact nature of the property held and the location of the property which conferred the right to vote.
Place of abode will not always be the same as the qualifying property, particularly for the wealthy or those in trade or business. In any part of Somerset, you will find voters whose abode is given as a nearby city, or even further afield. The qualification column may well indicate the ownership of more than one piece of property in the area.
By the very nature of the franchise, these records list only a proportion of the adult male population, perhaps 15% in 1832, rising to around 60% by 1914. Electoral Registers are likely to be very accurate records: local officials will have been familiar with local street and place names, and the formal process of registration, which was subject to public scrutiny, suggests that the full names of voters will be free of the sort of errors we find in, for example, census records. In fact, a voter whose name was not correctly registered wasn’t entitled to vote.
The former Somerset constituency was divided into new East Somerset and West Somerset divisions created for the 1832 general election.
The Second Reform Act brought about significant boundary changes, which came into effect at the 1868 general election.
The southern end of East Somerset (including Glastonbury, Radstock, Shepton Mallet, Somerton, the area round Frome and Wells) was moved into the new Mid Somerset division.
The revised East Somerset constituency was now defined as consisting of the Long Ashton, Axbridge, Keynsham, Temple Cloud and Weston Petty Sessional Divisions.
At the 1885 general election Somerset's divisions were reorganised into seven single-member county constituencies: East Somerset, West Somerset, North Somerset, South Somerset, Bridgwater, Frome and Wells. The 1867-85 East Somerset constituency was divided between the new Frome, North Somerset and Wells divisions. The new East Somerset division was carved out of the previous Mid Somerset division, with Shepton Mallet, Somerton, Street and Wincanton.
There are 3 dates associated with each Register:
the "qualifying date", which is the date by which a voter establishes the right to vote;
the date when a register comes into force: and
the date when a register is replaced by a new one (normally, but not always, 12 months).
These dates can spread over 3 calendar years. The qualifying date is the one which is most useful here - at the later dates the person may have moved or died.
The dates varied over the years and the changes are listed below
1832: The qualifying date was July 31 while the register came into force on December 1
1843: The qualifying date remained July 31 while the register came into force on November 30
1867: The qualifying date remained July 31 while the register came into force on January 1
1878: The qualifying date moved to July 15 while the register came into force on January 1
1885: The qualifying date moved back to July 31 while the register still came into force on January 1
1918: The qualifying date moved to January 15 and the register came into force on April 15
Some of the electoral registers have not survived the passage of time. Below is a list of the various electoral divisions with the years for which they are available.
Bridgwater: 1894 and 1905
East Somerset: 1832-1913
Frome: 1894 and 1905
Mid Somerset: 1876 and 1884
North Somerset: 1894 and 1905
South Somerset: 1894 and 1905
Wells: 1894 and 1905
West Somerset: 1846-1905
The registers are reproduced in PDF format. This means that searching them differs slightly from our usual search screens. To help you we have put together a few helpful hints and tips.
Search terms need to be for the exact word or words as they appear in the document. You can search by name, electoral division or year.
There is a high degree of accuracy in the original material but you might still find that a wildcard search may be of help. Use an asterisk * before or after, or even in the middle of a word or phrase to allow the search to take account of variations in place of the asterisk.
A search will return all pages on which the search terms appear. On each page there are multiple listings so you might have to look carefully to find your ancestor.