Professional genealogist Vicki Eldridge talks about 20th century electoral rolls and highlights some that were recently added to findmypast.

New Zealand led the way giving women the vote in 1893 closely followed by South Australia in 1894. Western Australia (1899) was the only other Australian colony to grant them the right prior to Federation. New South Wales followed in 1902, then Tasmania in 1903, Queensland in 1905 and Victoria was the last, holding out until 1908 but this only applied to Colonial/State elections.

The Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 enfranchised all adult men and women of Australia albeit with some exceptions. The exceptions included indigenous Australians. From the time of the first Federal election in 1903 women’s’ names began appearing in the Commonwealth Electoral Rolls. Many jumped at the chance and registered very quickly, others were more reserved until it became compulsory to register in 1911. Read more about the voter qualification on the digital copy of the 1902 Act.

From 1903 Electoral Rolls were alphabetical list by name of the voter in each Polling Place in each Electoral Division in each State. The details were:

  • Name – Last name and first and middle names in full. With the growing population the inclusion of any additional names is very helpful to a researcher. Sometimes there may be a qualification such as, sen. (senior) or jnr (junior), if two persons in the same household have the same name
  • Residential address - Street and town (towns/suburbs are often abbreviated) or property name, sometime the house-name is included especially early in the century. On occasions the name of the suburb/town is not shown, perhaps on the assumption that it is the same as the Polling Place! This frequently occurs in cities but is not always logical
  • Occupation - If a person remained at the one address over decades, it is quite possible that their occupation remained as given when they first enrolled. When space on a line became a problem the occupation may have be abbreviated - h.d. (home duties), drvr – driver, ftr tnr – fitter & turner
  • Gender - nominally M (male) or F (female)

Recently on findmypast new editions of both State and Commonwealth electoral rolls have become available. The 1903 electoral roll has been added for NSW which is a great bonus. Electoral rolls for 1939 have been added for South Australia, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia. This is a really special year as it’s before the state of World War Two. For any enrolled adult males who may not have returned these rolls may provide further family details.

Electoral rolls up until the more recent ones give us a very important extra piece of information over directories, the occupation of every person. This can be very revealing when looking at the records of a town, especially one built around a primary industry. A spread of years or even decades of a town may tell the story of the fortunes and population fluctuations in numbers but also in the occupations.

The supplementary list for Enngonia Division, in the Electoral District of Darling (NSW) 1903-4 is another example.  It only shows women! A search in Census Land & Surveys, filtered to Australia and Electoral Rolls then restricted to 1903 in the search fields with a keyword of Enngonia, returned a further page and a half. This time it was all the male voters. As women had only just been enfranchised, the original rolls were not integrated in all Districts with the new enrolments. Enngonia is a small rural town and district near the Queensland border, one might imagine that the women of the town said ‘Yes! Give me the vote!’ and participated in a mass registration.

New Zealand & Queensland records

These rolls are available in two different formats Records and Documents. Records are searchable databases of full transcriptions of the rolls, and return the details on individual persons (see image below). Documents on the other hand are fully searchable images so a page will have many names (as in the Enngonia image above).

Other changes

In Australia 1973 the ‘adult’ age was dropped from 21 to 18 and in 1994 the lists were compiled on a State wide alphabetical basis rather than the previous Division/sub Division.

Search the extensive electoral rolls on findmypast today.