Digging Deeper: Voter Registrations presentation by Rebecca Whitman Koford, CG, CGL at #RootsTech
I had so many light-bulb moments as I listened to her class. With her permission, I’m sharing my notes from her lecture. I didn’t write down everything she said, and her excellent syllabus had so many wonderful resources, that I could really focus my notes on what I was personally learning. I hope you can learn something from my notes as well.
Voter law and registration
-citizenship and age requirements – one needs to be a citizen, and of lawful age
-historical exclusions of minorities: Women, African american, Asian American, Native American
Page 4 of syllabus has a table with a history of the laws.
Quick and dirty way to learn about the laws – FamilySearch wiki – California Great registers. You can contribute to the FS wiki.
NCSL – national conference of state legislatures – great blog series called The Canvass – a lot on the historical and evolution of voter law and voter registrations now. – www.ncsl.org
Online: Ancestry, Findmypast, MyHeritage, FamilySearch Catalog, USGenWEb
Offline: County Courthouse, State Archives and Major repositories (FHL Microfilm)
Unexpected: buried in early county court books, rarely indexed, newspapers with voter lists
Three types of records she consulted – textual, microfilmed, online. Throughout the class, you will see an icon showing which examples were digitized and online, or just available at repositories (textual).
FamilySearch Catalog – not many voter registrations have been name indexed.
-not every state has the voter registrations category
-typically organized by voting ward or district
-camera icon means I can scroll through it; with a key over it, I have to go to the FHC to get it; no camera means check later it’s coming
-Alabama has an 1867 voter registration records database
-check the beginning of the record to see if there were directions/rules/instructions given to the election judges. Read the description online to see if the collection is 100% complete or not; may list where the original records are kept.
-looks a lot like a census
-group of four men, African American – just two years after the civil war before the jim crow segregation took hold; these men maybe knew each other
-look at all those extra people all around your ancestor
Name alias, age, birthplace, marital status, identifying marks
Read every word – affirmed rather than swore an oath – this may be a clue to religious beliefs of people who did not swear (baptists, mennonites, quakers, etc.)
Types of Voter Records
Poll Books (not poll taxes) – mini city directory or census! 1838 – textual and microfilm b/c sometimes this one in Maryland, you can only see these at the MD state archives – they are digitized but you have to see them there.
1838 voter registration included women
it’s important to check the back of the records – sometimes you’ll find affidavits about one man’s move from one voting ward to another voting ward in the city. John P. Schultz will be discharged from the alms house on the 21st of September
Sample of how many courts were used for their naturalizations: Oct 1852 at criminal court. Why? because court is court, and it was probably closer! Next is the U.S. District court – maybe closer to his residence. Next there was a “son of a naturalized citizen” so they could get a paper stating that. So many different courts used for naturalizations
Some voters are listed as deceased; they listed that in the voter registration books and also the
“Brinkman, Harmon of Fred” – meaning the son of Frederick Brinkman who was listed earlier on the page
California Great Registers “Poll List” – give an occupation – really helps with men of the same name
Voter Turnout List –voting ward/ election district; may include vote cast; mostly alphabetical. If you are a member of the LDS church, you may wonder why your LDS ward is called a ward – back then it was a common term for a districted region/area
Voter Registration Cards: modern forms of documented voter records. Problem: box of voter registration cards – get teenagers to work on it
Voter registration cards – 4th district court at Baltimore is where he naturalized. Always look at the back of the record! All kinds of things are scribbled on the back. Clue to possible marriage date; because applicant changed name due to marriage
signatures – can help you differentiate men of the same name
To “canvass” means go about getting votes; can also mean that they are trying to reduce the bloat on their registration records – track down people who have moved away, reduce voter fraud. If you don’t vote a couple times, they might think you’re gone so they will canvass to find out if you’re still in the area
Procedures for updating addresses for voters who have moved; taking off voters from rolls as appropriate
Unexpected Voter Records: newspapers, missing voters, voter fraud, very modern lists
Ballot stuffing – man from the 10th ward
Present day / living relatives – registered voters in the state of Delaware from 2015
Example: David and Mary Hope’s Son? Goal: find the eldest son of David Hope and Mary Creamer. Background for possible parents: Missing on a 1840 census – found a possibility that they moved to Baltimore – check voter registrations. What happened between 1838 and 1840 – in 1838 the father was the head of house but in 1840 the son was the head of house.
Almost half the examples were textual 11 – go find those original records that are not digitized!
#1 takeaway – Immigrant naturalizations – this is the number one thing you can find in these voter registrations!
“Remember me in the family tree; my name, my days, my strife. Then I’ll ride upon the wings of time and live an endless life.” ~ Linda Goetsch