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.

State Records NSW Updates

If you are not a subscriber to the newsletter of State Records NSW then you should be! 

News of new online indexes, changes to indexes, and how to use the website in general is being issued on a continuous basis, and the changes they are making may mean finding your ancestor after many years of being unable to find him/her.

A recent example is the merging of the immigration indexes. Previously the assisted immigration indexes for NSW were divided into three separate indexes, with additional indexes for other geographical areas that were part NSW at the time. If, in your enthusiasm, you missed searching one of the indexes you may miss your ancestor altogether.

Now, all these indexes have been combined into one, although you can search the old indexes individually if you wish. If he’s there you can’t NOT find him! (unless your spelling is too specific).

You can have these newsletter sent to you here.

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And you can see the most recent newsletter here.

Don’t forget the relatives – a NSW immigration story

sailing_ship 200x300This is a story from my own family tree, in particular it is about my g-g-grandfather Richard Eason. When I started looking into my family history I got his NSW death certificate from 1922 on which the informant (his son Irwin) stated that he was born in County Tyrone, Ireland; that his residence in Australia had been for 72 years; and that his mother’s name was Sarah Irwin.

A search of the State Records NSW index to Assisted Immigrants arriving in Sydney and Newcastle showed a Richard Eason arriving in NSW on the Orient in 1850, aged 20. I have copies of two passenger lists from this event – the “Agents’ Immigrant Lists” and the “Board’s Immigrant Lists”. The “Board’s” list shows, among other things, parents names and whether they are still living, and relatives in the Colony. (Archives Authority of New South Wales, Persons on Bounty Ships to Sydney, Newcastle, Moreton Bay, 1848-1891, (Board’s Immigrants Lists 1848-1891), SR Reel 2461). Richard gave his father’s name as Richard Eason and indicated that he was no longer living; and he gave the name John Clements in Swan River as his relative. What is actually written in the column looked to me at the time like “acq John Clements Swan River” and I decided that “acq” meant “acquaintance” and left it at that.

I also found that a Catherine Clements, also from Tyrone, was on the same ship the Orient and gave as her relative “a brother John Clements Carcoar and a sister Sarah living in Sydney”. I wish I could say that I looked through the whole passenger list to find anyone else that had come from Tyrone, but I actually found her name in the Hervey Bay Indexers’ The Relations Index of Immigrants to NSW on microfiche in my local library.

Eventually, many years later, I did look up the arrival of this John Clements. I rechecked the Hervey Bay Indexers’ The Relations Index of Immigrants to NSW and they stated the relationship of John Clements to Richard Eason was cousin. So I looked for the arrival of John Clements. John wasn’t in the online index for assisted arrivals from 1844 at www.records.nsw.gov.au, but he was in the microfilmed card index of arrivals from 1828-1842 (Index to Assisted (Bounty) Immigrants to New South Wales 1828-1842, Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City). He arrived on the Pearl in 1841. In Assisted (bounty) immigrants 1839-1842 (SR Reel 1335) John’s native place was Clogher, Tyrone, the same as my Richard, he was Presbyterian (Richard was Church of England), and his parents were Joseph and Catherine Clements, both living.

The revelation was Sarah Clements, found in the same index and arriving on the same ship, the Pearl, as her brother John – her parents were Joseph Clements and Catherine IRWIN. My Richard’s mother was Sarah IRWIN, so I started to think that they really were cousins, not just acquaintances. Sarah also stated that she was under the protection of her Aunt Mrs Irwin, so I searched the rest of the passenger records for Mrs Irwin, and found William Irwin with his wife Catherine and their 5 children. William, a native of Clogher, Tyrone, was a farm labourer, and his parents were stated to be John Irwin, a farmer, and Sarah Stevenson. (Archives Authority of New South Wales, Assisted (Bounty) Immigrants Arriving Sydney 1828-1842, SR Reel 1335)

To cut a long story short, it is entirely possible, perhaps even probable, that this William Irwin is the brother of my Richard Eason’s mother Sarah Irwin, whose father was John Irwin, a farmer, and whose mother has not been recorded in any document I have been able to find. Having found a possible brother of Sarah’s whose parents were recorded I can deduce the name of Sarah’s mother – Sarah Stevenson. In addition it is likely that the Irwins’ were Presbyterian, another revelation. So by chasing up a relative’s name on a passenger list I have been able to find a likely name for my previously-unknown g-g-g-g-grandmother. Where records in Ireland are so scarce, this is no small thing!

So the lesson is this: Always follow up the names of people that are associated with your ancestors, even if you can’t see any connection. You never know where they might lead you. I thought this cousin John Clements was just an acquaintance from Richard’s old country and ignored him, and in the end he was the only link I have, even now, to Richard’s maternal grandmother. The records in Ireland are notoriously scanty and tracing generations back through baptism and marriage registers, even if they still exist, is impossible from Australia unless you pay a researcher in Ireland or go there yourself, which is my next plan!

A note on sources – all the records I have referred to are microfilmed copies of records held by State Records New South Wales. They are available at the Reading Rooms in The Rocks and Kingswood and in many libraries around New South Wales and other Australian capital cities.

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