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A Genealogist In The Archives: Voting and Our Ancestors

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Voting and Our Ancestors

Today, we will make history and elect a new President of the United States for the 45th time in our nations history. Have you ever thought about how the Presidential elections effected your ancestor's? Did your ancestor's participate in the election process?

As an archivist, I find that election and voting records are one of the least accessed records collections in the archives. Many genealogists just don't think about these records collections as being pertinent to their genealogy research. If you are committed to doing Reasonably Exhaustive Research, you must include election and voting records.

Whether you are political or not, why overlook a whole record source that could add documents and information to your ancestor's life story?

So, just what kind of election and voting records are available, here are just a few:

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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