Electoral rolls in New South Wales

Electoral rolls provide useful information about your ancestors’ residence and eligibility to vote. New South Wales electoral rolls are available from 1842 to 2009, although rolls were not updated every year, and some of the early ones have been lost.

Each listing includes name, address, and occupation (up to 1984). It is possible to see which family members were living in the same address, and so can be used instead of the censuses available in other countries to determine whereabouts and household composition.

If you do know that your ancestor moved from one place to another electoral rolls can give you an idea of when he or she moved. A search of the early rolls, when there was a property requirement, can tell you whether your ancestor was a freeholder or leaseholder, or just a resident.

Australian electoral rolls were published in books for distribution. Most of these have been microfilmed (in the 1800s) or on microfiche (1901 onwards) and are available in many libraries. Most libraries do not have all years, or all electorates. From 1990 onwards the microfiche are indexed across Australia.

Who had the vote?

The qualifications to vote in New South Wales elections has changed over time. This means that your ancestor may not have been entitled to vote in the period in which you are searching for him or her. Here is a brief timeline:

1843 Of the 36 members of the Legislative Council 24 were now elected by the colonists, provided they owned freehold property valued at £200 or more, or they leased property at £20 or more.

1851 Property value required reduced to £100 freehold or £10 leasehold.

1856 Responsible government introduced, with a Lower House elected by colonists. Occupiers of houses worth at least £10 per year included.

1858 All adult males could vote if they’d lived in the electorate for 6 months or had been naturalised and lived in the Colony for two years, except for paupers, prisoners, police and the armed forces. A man could vote in all the electorates in which he held property.

1893 The property and length of residence requirements were abolished, so that itinerant workers could vote.

1902 Following the federation of all the Colonies into the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901 women were given the vote in Commonwealth and New South Wales elections.

1925 First election in which voting was compulsory.

1934 The Legislative Council was replaced by a body that was indirectly elected by the Lower House.

1974 Voting age lowered to 18 years.

1978 Upper House elected along with Lower House in general elections.

Where can I find my ancestor?

1946 Electoral Roll for North Sydney Division

1946 Electoral Roll for North Sydney, Lane Cove Subdivision

Until 1990 Australian electoral rolls were published by division, so you need to know where the person is living to be able to find them. They are published on microfiche for the 1900s and early 2000s, the last one being 2009.

To find the electoral division you will need the atlas, which has maps of each capital city and each state that show the boundaries as they changed from 1902-

Very few New South Wales rolls have been digitised and indexed, although this situation is slowly changing:

Ancestry have digitised some rolls for New South Wales, for 1930, 1931-32, 1933, 1934-35, 1936-3719431949, and 1953-54. Those in bold text have been indexed.

Archive CD Books Australia, a subsidiary of Gould Genealogy, has started to scan and index New South Wales electoral rolls and publish them on CD. So far they have published the rolls for 1903 and 1913, with many others to follow. Check your library to see if they have the CDs.

See also:

State Records NSW Archives in Brief 5 – Electoral Rolls

State Records NSW Brief Guide No. 1 – Electoral Rolls

State Library NSW Instructions for searching the NSW Electoral Rolls 1903-1989

[Most of this post has been published previously at http://heritagegenealogy.com.au/research/electoral-rolls/]

Image scanned from microfiche.

A World War I soldier’s girlfriend?

I have previously written about the service file Douglas James Stewart (1899-1918), downloaded from the National Archives of Australia’s website. The file is 61 pages long, and I was unable to do it justice in a single post.

Most of the documents in the file are fairly self-explanatory. This one has a small mystery. Alongside the correspondence with Douglas’ father James Simpson Stewart, which I will cover in a future post, is this letter:

Letter from Miss J.M. Byrne dated 31 Dec 1918

NAA: Base Records Office Australian Imperial Force; B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers. 1914-1920; 3013311, Stewart Douglas James : SERN 3718. Letter from Miss JM Byrne dated 31 Dec 1918.

Miss J. M. Byrne lived in Glebe Point in inner Sydney, and on New Year’s Eve in the year that Douglas was killed she sat down with her patriotic notepaper to ask for more information about his death.

She knew to whom to write, she knew Douglas’ rank, serial number and battalion, and she knew the date that he was killed.

Who was she? Douglas had five sisters, that I can find, and none of them had the initials ‘JM’. The correspondent was a ‘Miss’, in any case, and not a ‘Miss Stewart’. Douglas’ mother’s maiden surname was Lawson, and I know little about her or her extended family. Perhaps Miss Byrne was a cousin on his mother’s side.

I must be a romantic though, because I prefer to think of Miss Byrne as a girlfriend or a potential girlfriend. She must have been so upset, imagining all the dreadful ways he could have been killed, to have written to request more information from the Base Records Office. She clearly wasn’t in a position to obtain news directly from the family, who could have been expected to have the earliest notification.

Before the war Douglas was an 18-year-old telegraph messenger and lived in Holbrook, a country town near Albury. How did Miss Byrne know him? How did they meet? Was she from Holbrook? Why was she in Sydney?

Two weeks later she received the following reply:

Reply to Miss JM Byrne dated 14 Jan 1919

She was told that there was no further information regarding ‘his regrettable loss’ than was contained in the ‘brief cable report “Killed in Action, 8/8/18″.’ When further information arrived by mail the next-of-kin would be informed. If she enquired again after this time these particulars would be forwarded to her also.

There is no subsequent correspondence from her.

I’ve searched the NSW Birth Death and Marriage index for the marriage of a J M Byrne, and there were a couple in the 1930s, an inconclusive result. I hope she had a happy life.

Scottish convict records at the National Archives of Scotland

National Archives of ScotlandDid you know that you can search for your Scottish convict by name in the catalogue of the National Archives of Scotland?

I didn’t until recently. I am researching one John Graham who, it was claimed on his death certificate, arrived in the colonies when he was about 16 and spent may have spent some time in Tasmania. A search of all the usual arrival options to New South Wales proved unsuccessful but there was a suitable candidate transported to Van Diemen’s Land at a young age.

Further research at the excellent Archives Office of Tasmania digitised content website showed that this John Graham came from Scotland. His 7 year term was timed perfectly for him to serve it, move to New South Wales, get married and start his family.

The catalogue of the National Archives of Scotland has indexed convict trial records by name. A search for the name John Graham gave far too many results to be useful, but narrowing the date range down to when I knew (from the Tasmanian records) that his trial took place, and there he was. Twice.

The precognition (AD14/39/95) showed that he was tried with Thomas McKay, who appears next to him on the convict indent. Under the heading  ’Accused’  they are both named, as is his father and his father’s occupation, and their residence:

John Graham, son of Peter Graham, weaver, Small’s Wynd, Dundee
Thomas McKay, son of Donald McKay, painter, Hawkhill, Dundee

The trial papers (JC26/1839/5) give even more information:

John Graham, son of Peter Graham, weaver, Small’s Wynd, Dundee, Verdict: Guilty, Verdict Comments: Guilty in terms of own confession, Sentence: Transportation – 7 years. Note: Pannel cannot write.
Thomas McKay, son of Donald McKay, painter, Hawkhill, Dundee, Verdict: Guilty, Verdict Comments: Guilty in terms of own confession, Sentence: Transportation – 7 years. Note: Pannel cannot write.

Requesting copies of these records is not so straightforward, but it can be done. It appeared that the only way to do so from the other side of the world was to request a quote by email, so I wrote to the enquiry email address enquiries@nas.gov.uk asking for one, giving the first reference that I’d found.

I got an email back a few days later with a very detailed list of what was in both files:

Precognition (ref: AD14/39/95)

A Precognition is the written report of the evidence of witnesses to a crime, taken before the trial in order to help prepare the case against the accused. This particular Precognition contains the following items:

  • Bound Precognition, this includes the witness statements and the declarations of both John Graham and Thomas McKay [74 pages]
  • Printed Indictment [7 pages]
  • Inventory of Papers in Precognition [3 pages]
  • Schedule [2 pages]
  • Petition [6 pages]
  • Letters [2 pages]
  • Supplementary Schedule [2 pages]

74 pages of witness statements and declarations! Priceless!

The Court Process Papers (ref: JC26/1839/5) contain the following items:

  • Handwritten Indictment [13 pages]
  • Diligence [2 pages]
  • List of Assize [2 pages]
  • Execution against John Graham [2 pages]
  • Execution against Thomas McKay [2 pages]
  • Execution against witnesses [4 pages]
  • Declaration of John Graham [4 pages]
  • Declaration of Thomas McKay [4 pages]
  • 2nd declaration of John Graham [4 pages]
  • 2nd declaration of Thomas McKay [4 pages]
  • Extract Conviction [5 pages]
  • Complaint against Robert Burt, James Downie, Duncan Carswell, James Robertson and Thomas McKay [2 pages]
  • Extract Certified Copy Complaint [4 pages]
  • Complaint against Archibald Paterson & John Graham [2 pages]
  • Complaint against John Graham [2 pages]

I was also given the option of a Minute Book entry:

The Minute Book Entry (ref: JC11/86)

This is a handwritten summary of the proceedings in court, and includes the charge, the plea and the sentence handed down [2 pages]

The quote was given separately for each file, and was not for the faint-hearted, although considerably cheaper than a trip to Edinburgh. We are going ahead with it, so I’ll report on what comes back when the package arrives.

Payment is by cheque on a British account (which I don’t have) or an international money order, or by credit card over the phone. They hope to provide online payments in the future. Postage and packing is included.

As much as I wish that they offered a similar service to the National Archives of Australia where you can pay a small amount to have something they intend to digitise scanned early, such as the World War II service files, I am still impressed that I was able to do so much from my PC here in Sydney.

I can’t wait for the copies to arrive!

Image by courtesy of the National Archives of Scotland

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