Search for your Irish ancestors through the British Library’s electoral register from 1885 to 1886. For the first time, the registers are available online to search by name. Use the register to discover who lived in your home, on your street or in your townland in 1885. The registers include the counties of Armagh, Fermanagh, Down, Limerick, Mayo, Meath, Tyrone, Roscommon, Westmeath, Wexford and Wicklow. Uncover the records of Charles Parnell and W B Yeats.
Each record includes an image of the original register with a short transcription description of the document. The records consist of both borough and county registers. The details found in each record are similar, but the layout may vary. In an image you will find
Name – listed alphabetically by surname
Place of abode
Nature of qualification – explains if the individual is a rated occupier, householder or freeholder
Amount of qualification
Townland or a street name
This is the small text box on the left-hand side of the screen. It will provide you with the following information:
Register type – whether the register is from a parliamentary borough or county
Polling district or place – this will include polling districts or wards. Civil parishes are not indexed and will need to be searched by keyword.
Archive and British Library shelfmark
Searching PDFs is a different experience to searching other indexed records. Use our Search Tips provided below as a guide.
The electoral registers are from 1885 until 1886 and include twelve counties in Ireland. The 1880s in Ireland saw much change, from land reform and the beginning of the Home Rule Crisis to the rise of the Irish Parliamentary Party. In the records we can find the name of Charles Parnell, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party. The registers records Parnell living in Rathdrum, County Wicklow at his birthplace Avondale House. During this time, the Irish culture was vibrant with the Gaelic revival and the Irish Literary Revival. William Butler Yeats, Irish poet, politician and a driving force of the Irish Literary Revival, can be found in the records living in the parish of Thomastown in County Kildare in 1885.
From the Act of Union in 1801, until Ireland’s independence, over 7,000 electoral registers were created, but the British Library only holds the registers for a single year. These registers are a powerful resource for genealogists. For the first time, these registers are available online and can be searched by name. Previously, when researching your family history you would need an address in order to find your ancestor in the register for that constituency. Today, you can search by name across thousands of places to discover your ancestors.
What are electoral registers?
Electoral registers are lists, created annually, of people who are eligible and registered to vote. These lists would include reasons for eligibility, such as their ownership or occupation of a property as a tenant or, in some cases, as a lodger. Until 1918, the right to vote was closely linked to property.
Electoral registers were first introduced in 1832 with the Great Reform Act. As the number of voters increased and polling days were reduced to one day, there was a need to establish the right to vote in advance of the polling day. To that end, electoral registers were created.
These registers are a special resource for family historians because you can discover your ancestors in an exact location between the census years. Also, through the registers you can discover the history of your family home, such as who lived in your home before you. Have you ever renovated and found layers of wallpaper or discovered items from a previous owner in your attic? Is it possible that someone famous lived in your house? Now you can find the names of those who previously called your house their home. Furthermore, you can see how the area around your home developed over the years as new homes or businesses were built.
The few registers held by the British Library are listed below:
County Armagh – Mid Division, North Division and South Division
County Down – Newry
County Fermanagh – North Division and South Division
County Kildare – North Division and South Division
County Limerick – Limerick City
County Mayo – East Division, North Division, South Division and West Division
County Meath – North Division and South Division
County Roscommon – North Division and South Division
County Tyrone – East Division, Mid Division, North Division and South Division
County Westmeath – North Division and South Division
County Wexford – North Division and South Division
County Wicklow – East Division and West Division
The Ireland, Electoral Registers Constituency List will provide a full list of the polling districts and constituencies available within these registers. The list can be found in the Useful Links and Resources.
For help in identifying relevant constituencies, read the British Library’s Parliamentary Constituencies and Their Registers Since 1832 available in Useful Links and Resources. In this publication, beginning on page 34, is a list of constituencies in alphabetical ordering, which includes the years that each constituency existed and the years of electoral registers held by the British Library, as well as the British Library shelfmark and any additional notes.
Voting Reform Laws
The nineteenth century witnessed significant changes to the voting laws and the representation of the people. Prior to 1832, voting rights were limited and representation was unbalanced in Parliament. Early nineteenth century Ireland saw the rise of the tenant farmer, the Land League and nationalism. The century was first marked by the Irish famine and then, later, by the Home Rule Crisis.
Voting reform in Ireland started in 1798, when Catholics were first given the right to vote. Then in 1829 Parliament passed the Roman Catholic Relief Act, which permitted Catholics to enter Parliament. However, in the same act the right to vote for those freeholders worth 40 shillings (about £2) was revoked, which disenfranchised many Catholic voters. The act also established the county franchise at £10 for any lease.
Representation of the People (Ireland) Act, 1832
The Representation of the People (Ireland) Act was also known as the Irish Reform Act of 1832. The act was passed about the same time as the 1832 Reform Act in England and Wales. The Reform Act of 1832 brought about the following changes:
Representation in Ireland was increased from 100 members of parliament to 105.
There was a slight increase to the electorate.
The £10 qualification was extended to the boroughs.
Franchise was given to £10 freeholders, leaseholders for at least 60 years and those who held leases for life were all enfranchised.
However, despite these improvements, many of the poor agricultural labourers were still unable to vote. The electorate was extended to all University of Dublin graduates holding a Master’s degree. Before 1832, only the provost, fellows and scholars of Trinity College were allowed to vote.
Representation of the People Act 1868
The Representation of the People Act 1868, also known as the 1868 Reform Act, extended the borough franchise to all householders contingent upon a one-year residential qualification and the payment of rates and to lodgers who were occupying lodgings worth £10 per year and who met the one year’s residence requirement. It extended the county franchise by including those occupying land worth £12 per year or owning land worth £5 a year. As a result, representation was increased for industrial centres and decreased for the smaller towns. Women and poor men were still denied the right to vote in parliamentary elections.
Secret Ballot Act of 1872
The Secret Ballot Act of 1872 required that all parliamentary and local elections be held by secret ballot. Prior to this Act, voters could have been bribed or intimidated by landowners or employers who were allowed to be present and to check individual votes. A second act, The Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act of 1883, was passed as a further measure to remove bribery from voting. This was important in Ireland because it meant that tenants could vote against the landlord class in elections. The Irish tenants were no longer afraid of reprisals from their landlords for the way they voted. A result of this new act, was the General Election of 1880, which saw the end of landlord interests in Ireland and the dominance of the Irish Parliamentary Party led by Charles Stewart Parnell.
Franchise Act of 1884
The 1884 act, known as the Third Reform Act, targeted the rural areas. It extended the 1867/68 householder and lodger franchise for boroughs/burghs to counties and created an occupation franchise for those with lands or tenements worth £12 a year. For the first time the franchise was substantially uniform in constituencies throughout Great Britain and Ireland. This meant the vote was further extended across the male working class population.
1918 Representation of the People Act
This act enfranchised all men over the age of 21 and any woman over the age of 30 who was “entitled to be registered as a local government elector in respect of the occupation in that constituency of land or premises (not being a dwelling-house) of a yearly value of not less than five pounds or of a dwelling-house, or is the wife of a husband entitled to be so registered”. Furthermore, it abolished the property qualifications for men and gave the vote to men over the age of 19 currently serving in the armed forces.
The extension of the vote had an explosive impact in Ireland. In the election of 1918, Sinn Fein won the majority of seats, abstained from the British Parliament and created a revolutionary parliament in Ireland, Dail Eireann (Irish for Assembly of Ireland). The first Dail met in January 1919.
Searching a PDF is a different experience to searching transcribed records. To help you find your ancestor, we have put together search tips to guide you. Remember that you are searching records that have been digitally scanned and then converted to machine-encoded text using Optical Character Recognition (OCR). This process is not perfect and the machine may have misread characters, especially in personal names, which causes searches to fail. Try alternative approaches such as repeating the search in a different year or scanning all the voters in a civil parish.
Searching for names
The search returns results based on proximity (how close together the words are located), thus a search for Henry Smith will also bring back William Henry Smith or a search for John Smith may return John Prickett on Smith Street.
The name variant search check box will not work with a PDF search. Instead, try searching for your ancestor using multiple spellings of their name. For example, your Great Aunt Katherine may have spelt her name as Catherine or possibly the Brook family used to have an ‘e’ on the end and spelt the name as Brooke.
Use the keyword field to do a wildcard search. By inserting an asterisk on either side of the word, it will search for various spellings of that word. For example, ()Geo() will return Gregory and George.
In some registers, the first name was abbreviated. If you cannot find your ancestor by their first name, try an abbreviated spelling. For example, the name William could be listed as W or Wm.
When searching for a name starting with ‘Mc,’ such as McManus or McNeeny, you may want to try a second search as M'Manus or M'Neeny. In some cases, it is difficult for the search function to pick up the superscript ‘c’.
Try dropping the apostrophe for names with an ‘O’ prefix. For example, instead of searching for O’Malley, search for OMalley or even Malley to get more results.
In this search experience, you are searching through the original text as it was recorded, therefore, you may come across local variants or accidental misspellings.
Constituencies have changed throughout the century as voting laws developed and the franchise was extended. To find your ancestor, search through multiple constituencies or places.
For more help with the changing nature of constituencies over the years, refer to the British Library’s Parliamentary Constituencies and their Registers since 1832. A full list of polling places and districts are available on the Ireland, Electoral Registers constituency List. Both are available in Useful Links and Resources.
Many of the registers will have a street index or directory at the beginning of the document. You can either get to the beginning by continuously clicking the previous button on the PDF screen or you can start a new search for the constituency and year and then order the results by image number. By doing so, the top image would be the first page and you could then click through the images from the beginning.