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.

More Australian Electoral Rolls on Ancestry

Ancestry seems to have added more Australian electoral rolls onto ancestry.com.au without any great fanfare. At least, if there was one I missed it, and I didn’t get an update about it. They now cover the period from 1903 to 1954, although the coverage isn’t complete, nor is it the same for each state.

Here is the list, blatantly cut-and-pasted from their website.

State and Years Presently Included:

This database currently includes electoral rolls for the following states and years. Those marked by asterisk have been indexed. Others are image-only.

  • Australian Capital Territory: 1928*, 1929-31, 1935*, 1937*, 1943*, 1949*, 1954*
  • New South Wales: 1930*, 1931-32, 1933*, 1934-35, 1936-37*, 1943*, 1949*, 1953-54*
  • Northern Territory: 1922*, 1928, 1929*, 1930-31, 1934*, 1937*, 1943*, 1949*, 1954*
  • Queensland: 1903*, 1905*, 1906, 1908-10, 1912, 1913*, 1914-17, 1919*, 1921*, 1922, 1925*, 1926, 1928-29, 1930*, 1931-32, 1934, 1936-37*, 1943*, 1949*, 1954*
  • Tasmania: 1914*, 1915-17, 1919*, 1921, 1922*, 1925, 1928*, 1929-31, 1934, 1936-37*, 1943-44*, 1949*, 1954*
  • Victoria: 1856*, 1903*, 1905-06, 1908, 1909*, 1910, 1912-13, 1914*, 1915-18, 1919*, 1920-22, 1924*, 1925-28, 1931*, 1932-35, 1936-37*, 1942-43*, 1949*, 1954*
  • Western Australia: 1901*, 1905, 1906*, 1909, 1910-11*, 1912-15, 1916*, 1917-22, 1925*, 1926, 1928-30, 1931*, 1934, 1936-37*, 1943*, 1949*, 1954*

Take note of the years that are indexed and those that are not.

Full details here.

I did a test drive of a roll without going through the index. My Eason family was in Blayney until the mid-1950s, so I went searching for them in the 1954 roll. I know from searching previously for an earlier period that they were likely to be in the Commonwealth Division of Macquarie, State Division of Bathurst, Blayney Subdivision, so I went searching there first. I know that boundaries change over the years but you have to start somewhere and I started there.

I selected New South Wales, then 1954, then MacQuarie (as spelled by Ancestry). I then selected Bathurst, and E for the initial of my ancestor.

The page that came up was for the Subdivision of Bathurst, which I didn’t notice, so I then went back and searched for other divisions and subdivisions. Eventually I noticed that there were a number of pages for each selection, so I went back to Bathurst and there were 4 pages, of which I was on the first one. I moved on to page 2, which was still Bathurst, but page 3 was Blayney. There they were!

1954 Electoral Roll Macquarie Division Blayney Subdivision

1954 Electoral Roll Macquarie Division Blayney Subdivision

You can see it’s not a brilliant image. I’ve also cropped the black border around the image. The surnames don’t quite disappear into the binding on the right hand page, although on other pages they do. Still, it’s available on your subscription at home, if you have one, or at your library, if you don’t, without looking at microfiche, which aren’t indexed either.

Elections in Australia

I’m typing this on my laptop as I’m watching the election coverage on the ABC.

I must admit that when I saw in Ancestry that they had released some Australian electoral rolls it never occurred to me that perhaps they timed the release to coincide with our federal elections! I guess I don’t associate Americans with knowledge about Australia – after all, the site talks about counties rather than states and electorates.

This is not to take anything away from their achievement. I am really looking forward to other rolls becoming available in the next few weeks (as I hope they will be!).

What is interesting me in watching the coverage is the names of the electorates and their continuity from the last century and the one before. Instead of just watching my own electorate, which has already been called, my ears prick up when I see the electorates my ancestors lived in as well.

Are the seats Liberal or Nationals or Labor or still undecided?

How close is the vote?

What were they when my ancestor was alive?

How close was the vote in my ancestors’ time?

How much has changed since then?

What were the parties’ names then?

What did my ancestor vote? Were they swinging voters?

How excited were my female ancestors when they got the vote?

How were campaigns conducted in those days?

What was the radio coverage like?

Were there the multitude of fringe parties in the Senate that there are now?

All interesting questions.

I’m sure there are many others. Some of them I can almost answer myself. I remember when the Senate voting form was much smaller than the tablecloth it is now. No TV, and certainly no graphics with almost vote-by-vote counts. More restrained newspapers without lots of photographs. No cartoons in the newspapers either! And they didn’t talk about “aspirational”seats and “battler” seats.