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A Genealogist In The Archives

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Voting Records and Your Ancestors

"And the next President of the United States is.....". We will once again, for the 45th time in United States history, here these words come November 8, 2016. As a people, the United States will elect a President to govern our country.

Have you ever wondered what your ancestor's thought about politics? Did they vote in the Presidential Elections, state elections or even the local county or community elections? Did they participate in the political process in some way?

City of Erin Election Returns, August 7, 1924, Houston County, Tennessee Archives
Voting and election records are available to the genealogist at many of our different archives. Seeking out these types of records adds to our ancestor's life story. If you haven't researched your ancestors in these types of records, you should!

So, just what kinds of voting records can be found, I am highlighting just a few here but there is so much more. Be sure to check with all local archives, historical societies, genealogical societies, libraries and university archives in the areas where your ancestor's lived and voted to see what is available.

The Poll Tax:  One of the first types of records that I always suggest researchers look for are Poll Tax records A poll tax was a prerequisite to the registration for voting in many states. This Poll Tax would have been included on the regular tax records of the area or county where your ancestor lived. So, even if your ancestor didn't own property, you will want to check the tax records for this Poll Tax.

Voting Records: Many archives have voting records. These could be in the form of Election Returns, Voter Registrations, etc. These records are a great place to find your ancestor's names and possible signatures. These records could also have local election officials who worked the elections or were in charge of operating the elections and counting the ballots.

Listing of Voters in the 1924 Erin City Elections, Houston County, Tennessee Archives
Election Workers Records: Your ancestors may not have run for office but maybe they were still part of the election process by being an Election Worker. Maybe they worked the polls and registered voters. Maybe they campaigned for a local candidate. Possibly they were an election official or served on the local Election Board. There could be records for your ancestors that showed their service during an election.

Election Worker's Pay Roll, District 7, May 9, 1963, Houston County, Tennessee Archives
Availability of voting/election records will vary from place to place. Be sure to call ahead to the local archives and ask if they have these kinds of records. Or possibly check their website to see if they have their holdings listed. Never travel to an archive without knowing if they have the records you are looking for, this will save you time and disappointment.

The United States has been holding elections since our very founding. It only makes sense to include searching for voting/election records to the genealogists to-do list. As genealogists we want to tell our ancestor's full story and that includes voting/election records.

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