Registers of Electors

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Absent Voters Lists

   A general election took place in the UK in late 1918. Men over 21 and women over 30 (subject to some conditions) were now entitled to vote. Those men over the age of 19 (and a very small number of women), in the armed forces or merchant navy, and who were away from home, had their details recorded in the Absent Voters Lists (AVLs). Some such lists are held by the British Library (and have been digitised by Find My Past). Those for Walthamstow (but not for Leyton or Chingford) are on microfilm at the Local Studies Library and Archives at Vestry House.

How the Absent Voters Lists were compiled
   The next of kin in the soldier's household supplied the voters' details for the 1918 election to the local voter registration officers. When this process was over, the names of those in the armed forces were passed to the War Office, specifically its Adjutant General's Department. They then arranged to send voting cards to those servicemen who were elsewhere in the UK (about 1 million), and ballot papers to those in France, Flanders and Italy (about 2 million). Men even further afield were able to vote via a proxy voting form. The AVLs were first published on 15th October 1918, with an updated list in the Spring of 1919. Even prisoners of war were entitled to vote - though it is far from clear that they would be able to do so in practice!
   The rather disorganised way in which the original information was collected meant that some men were omitted altogether, and the details of others were often inaccurate in some way. Each unit's record office was given two copies of the AVLs, and the officer in charge undertook to revise the lists by amending their numerous mistakes. Contributory sources of error included: movements of army units; casualties; and the transfer of men from one unit to another - all of which could produce changes in regimental number. Despite the errors, Absent Voters Lists can be a good way of linking a person, their military service, and an address together at a time when people were still displaced by the war.

The Walthamstow Absent Voters Lists
   The lists are arranged by Polling District in two volumes: Walthamstow East and Walthamstow West. This means that when searching by hand, you really need to know the road where the man's family lived. Most roads fell within a single district, but long roads - such as Hoe Street - might straddle several districts. Sometimes even the opposite sides of the one road are in different districts! Within each Polling District the roads are listed in alphabetical order; in each road the odd-numbered houses are usually listed separately from the even-numbered ones.
   For each man at a given address, the information provided is: entry number, surname, forename, house number, service (regimental) number, rank, unit (regiment or ship or RAF). Information is often missing: examples include initials in place of forenames; no service number; no rank; no unit. Surnames are occasionally mis-spelled; adjacent digits in the service number can be the wrong way round; and the rank might be incorrect. All of these 'errors' have been preserved in the AVL database, but where errors have been discovered, we have added  notes which are intended to clarify the situation in order to help researchers. The information is also heavily abbreviated in places, especially for the rank and the unit, and to a lesser extent for some forenames. We have provided a glossary for these three categories that provide the full version of most such acronyms.
   Around 150 people seem to occur more than once in the records. The reason is not yet clear, but possibilities are that more than one relative considered them to be normally resident with them, or that they moved during the war and they gained an entry for each address that they lived at. A further possibility is that writing was difficult to read, and they were given an entry for each house number numbers could have been.
   We hope the search engine will enable you to find your missing ancestor, either through his name or his known home address in Walthamstow, however, given that there are mistakes in the AVLs, you might have to use some ingenuity in your searching!


Search registers for absent voters

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Roads and Polling Districts

Representation of the People Act, 1918

More Absent Voters Lists can be found at The Long, Long Trail

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