Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Tuesday's Tip: The Wonders of Voter Registration Books

Tuesday’s Tip is a daily prompt at Geneabloggers encouraging bloggers to share a research tip or trick that worked for them.

I believe if I know something, everyone else has known it forever. That’s why I never share a tip – I think I don’t have one.  But maybe today I do.
Cover of a Voter Registration
book in Greene County, VA

Voter Registration records are probably one of the most underused sources for family historians. If you’re like me, you think, “So my ancestor registered to vote – big deal.” These records never interested me until I started indexing a collection of Voter Registration books owned by the Historical Society in Greene County, Virginia.

Reading these dry and boring lists has shown me just how useful the Voter Registration books can be:
  1. A date of birth might be more accurate than one given in a census record since it is coming from the person himself, not an informant.
  2. A person’s occupation might be listed (it is for most of the voters in Greene County, anyway), and that occupation could be different from one given in a census especially if the person changed jobs.
  3. A person’s voting precinct gives a more specific location of where he lived. I always knew that a particular ancestor lived in Greene County, but now I see he lived in a community known as Sullivan.
  4. In some years the registrar gave even more precise information on location like “6 mi. west of Monroe” or “2 mi. northeast of Stanardsville.”
  5. Transfers into and out of a precinct are noted, usually including a date. Such information can help a researcher track an ancestor who has moved within a county or to a new county or even another state. 
    A page from a Voter Registration book
    noting residence and transfer information
  6. The register also indicates how long the voter had been a resident.
  7. If a voter was removed from the rolls due to death, it is noted.  However, so far in Greene County that information is not helpful because the registrars did not include a date of death or even the date of when they inserted the correction. Perhaps registrars in other counties and states did things differently, so it might be worth a look.
  8. In Greene County, at least one of the registrars added little genealogical notations such as a father’s name, a nickname, or “brother of” to distinguish voters with similar names. In Greene, the surnames Shifflett and Morris dominate the rolls, so these little additions can be quite helpful for researchers.
    A page showing the registrar's additions 
  9. The voting precinct is a reflection of your ancestor’s friends and neighbors. It offers a glimpse into their social world – who the ministers were, the teachers, the retail merchants, the millers, the post masters, the carpenters, the miners, the doctors, the iron workers, the dress makers, the florist, the blacksmith, the machinists, the silk weavers, the railroaders, the lawyers, the store clerks, the farmers.

I encourage you to check with your county of interest to see if Voter Registration books are available and where they are kept. These dusty old ledgers just might help you flesh out an ancestor’s story.

© 2015, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. Wendy, that is amazing! I am guessing we look for these at the county level in the states we are researching. Thanks for the tip!

  2. That is interesting. I didn't really think before how much info was available through those voting registries. Now it would be curious to investigate and see what is available in cities I have lived in.


  3. Very valuable tip, thanks for writing about it and in such detail!

  4. Good to know! I've found some from California on ancestry - I wonder if there is other information out there. Thanks!

  5. Great tip and very interesting, too. I know how you feel that everyone else already knows what you know.

  6. Very cool. I have no idea where the voting records would be for where my parents and grandparents lived. When I retire I will look it up. Good tip :)

  7. Wendy,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2015/07/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-july-10-2015.html

    Have a great weekend!

  8. This is a great tip Wendy and a good reminder to get beyond the run of the mill records.

  9. Thanks for highlighting the voter registration books, Wendy. I'll have to see what I can find for my ancestors in Jefferson County (OH) and Butler and Mercer Counties (PA). It could be helpful and interesting.