Poll books were published from the late 1600s onwards, right through into the late 1800s. The Society of Genealogists poll book collection have been researched and mentioned in many academic publications as one of the most extensive in the world.

Poll books list not only the names, addresses and occupations of our ancestors but also their political inclinations as they list exactly whom they voted for.

Eligibility to vote in Parliamentary elections before the Reform acts was based on land holdings, renting property of sufficient value and payment of local land taxes, and in certain Boroughs, on Freedom rights. Poll books include the person’s ‘qualification’ to vote which usually meant you had to be a freeholder of a property worth at least 40 shillings. Although this was not always the case as shown in the below ‘Town of Bedford’ poll book extract where the tenant’s of the properties are also entitled to vote.

Another way a less than wealthy ancestor may have been able to vote was if he lived in a ‘Potwalloper’ county (see below) where householders were allowed to vote if they had ‘a hearth large enough to boil, or wallop, a cauldron, or pot’.

Of course, if you were a woman the above did not apply as votes for women (providing they were householders, married to a householder or if they held a university degree) were not allowed until 1918.

The Society of Genealogists is currently making digital images of its early poll book collection available for members to search as part of the MySoG pages on the Society’s website www.sog.org.uk


The following is an extract from a rare early electoral roll held at  the Society of Genealogists along with its Poll Book Collection. It comprises a “Register of the Electors to vote after the end of this present Parliament  in the choice of a  Member or Members to servce for the County of Bedford  at any election which may take place after the end of 31 October 1832 and before 1 Nov 1833″


Records of those who paid the land tax were  held at Quarter Session and used as electoral roll showing who may vote. This is a printed register of  eligible voters drawn from those records



1832 Bedford voters lists shows that tenants were entitled to vote.

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The ‘Potwalloping’ Borough of Colchester 1830.

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A 1831 Cambridge poll book showing candidate Viscount Palmerston who later (aged 71) went on to become the oldest Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1859.

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