How United States Voter Records Can Help You Build a Family Tree
During this election season, you are probably thinking more about who you are voting for rather than the information you provide on your voter registration form. But if you take a closer look at the details these forms collect, you will soon realize that voter records hold a treasure trove of data that can be helpful in building a family tree.
And just as many of us have the privilege to vote in America, as did some of the ancestors who came before us. While United States voter records are oft overlooked in the genealogy research process, they may lead you to an unknown ancestor, clues that provide you with more direction when you run into a brick wall, and a slew of other genealogical discoveries.
Some Things You May Find in Voter Registration Records:
- First Names
- Birth Dates
- Marital Status
- Naturalization Information (sometimes)
- Residential Information
- Occupational Information
- Land Ownership Information
It’s important to note that United States voter registration records are typically found after 1870. But there are sometimes exceptions to that rule. Additionally, voter records usually aren’t found online, but don’t let this deter you! State archives, your local library and historical societies can often help you find what you’re looking for. Sometimes, you may even be able to locate where the record is with an online catalogue search. Cyndi’s List provides links to a variety of location-specific voter registration records. But more likely than not, you will need to step outside the comforts of home to find the voter record in question.
Reasons Why Genealogists Should Research Voter Records
Sometimes Census Records Don’t Do the Trick
Because United States census records are only updated every ten years, this can cause you to run into some genealogical research hurdles. Think about it: When you move, you have to update your voter registration. So if your ancestor changed their place of residence within those ten years, their voter record can show you updated information that can be helpful to your research. Voter registration records can also tell you whether your ancestor’s occupation changed within that time frame and much more.
You May Find Middle Names of Your Ancestors
Voter registration forms usually ask for a complete name. And sometimes, voter records may be the only place you’ll be able to find a middle name. Middle names are important to your genealogy research as they may offer significant clues about certain ancestors. Sometimes you will even discover that what you thought to be an ancestor’s middle name, is actually part of their first name (like Mary Anne or John Paul). Or you could find that an ancestor’s middle name was used as if it was a first name (Jonathan James Davis may have went by James Davis). Surnames may also be used as middle names for both male and female ancestors. This may happen if a mother’s maiden name was used for a middle name.
An Elusive Female Ancestor Could Be Discovered
After August 1920, all of American women were eligible to vote. So if you have elusive female ancestors who were United States citizens at the time, you could look for information on them within voter registration records after that date. You may even discover a female ancestor you didn’t even know about in the first place! This is because if registered voters lived together, you may find a female spouse listed on a record. For example, Mrs. Anna Peters may be married to someone named Benjamin Peters who was registered at the same address. From there, you would want to search for more evidence that they were married. You may also find that they were related in another way such as a mother and son, or a brother and sister.
Information on an African American Ancestor May Be Found
If you’re researching your African American ancestors, it can be a difficult feat. In fact, you are likely finding it even harder to locate certain records than those who don’t have the same ancestral roots. This is because accurate record-keeping for African Americans prior to the Civil War wasn’t thought of very often. However, the 1867 registration of voters in the United States was the first to include valuable genealogical information on emancipated black citizens. Try searching state archives for voters records between 1867 and 1869 to find names and other data on registered voters.
Some helpful resources for finding some African American voter records:
- Alabama 1867 Voter Registration Database from the Alabama Department of Archives & History
- African American Voters in Alexandria, VA 1902-1954 – Includes 2,100 entries of registered African American voters.
These are just a few of the fascinating findings that voter registration records can provide genealogists. Naturalization information, political affiliations, physical characteristics of your ancestors and more may also be found within certain United States voter registration records.