Finding Ancestors with the Federal Voter\’s Lists

Source: Ancestry.ca

Last post when I was talking about City Directories, I had mentioned about looking at the Federal Voter\’s Lists for my grandmother\’s family.

What are the voter\’s lists? These were directories of all persons eligible to vote, put together by Office of the Electoral Officer for Canada. They were broken down by province or territory, then further broken down alphabetically by electoral district.The federal voter\’s lists came into being in 1935. Before that municipal voter\’s lists were used in federal elections.

More rural areas tended to be broken down alphabetically by surname, with their postal address listed after their name. Urban areas were broken down by street address. Every person of voting age was listed at each particular address. Along with their name and address was their occupation. This can come in handy when you are looking at ancestors that tended to reuse the same first names over and over. Ages are not listed on these lists. Knowing that your \”John Smith\” was a carpenter will come in handy when when trying to figure out which of the 3 John Smiths that lived in that area is the John Smith you\’re looking for.

Federal Voter\’s Lists were not compiled on a regular basis. These were only done for election years. There can be a gap as little as 1 year, or as large as 5 years between lists. Publicly available are the following years:

  • 1935
  • 1940
  • 1945
  • 1949
  • 1953
  • 1957
  • 1958
  • 1962
  • 1963
  • 1965
  • 1968
  • 1972
  • 1974
  • 1979
  • 1980

If you are looking for female ancestors, keep in mind that most married women were listed as \”Mrs. John Smith\” in early directories. For instance, my grandmother Marie Anne Mallais was listed as Mrs. Henry Govereau from 1935 until the 1960\’s. As a sign of the times, in early directories a woman\’s marital status is listed, sometimes instead of an occupation. She was listed as either \”spinster\”, \”married woman\” or \”widow\”. Depending on the district, this went on for a lot of years.

As with any record, use variations on your ancestor\’s name. My French great grandfather Patrice Mallais is listed as Patrick Malley in the 1935 voter\’s list. As I had mentioned in my post on City Directories, also check under middle names and even nicknames. My great grandfather John Wellington McDonald was Jack McDonald in 1935, John McDonald in 1945, Jack Wellington McDonald in 1949, and back to John McDonald in 1958.

Here\’s where to find Federal Voter\’s Lists:

  • Library and Archives Canada has a great overview on the Federal Voter\’s Lists and how to determine your ancestor\’s electoral district. They have the lists available on microfilm. By clicking on each year, you will get a chart that lists Province, electoral district, the page numbers for that district and the microfilm number. As well, they also have microfilms for the federal By-election years 1937-1983. See their guide on inter libray loan if you are not able to access onsite.
  • Ancestry has the Federal Voter\’s Lists from 1935 to 1980, but not the By-election lists. 1935-1974 have been indexed, and the years 1979 and 1980 are browse only. Keep in mind that the indexed years were done by OCR software, not by a human indexing team, This means that there WILL be errors in spelling, as well as gaps on who has been indexed. In my own research, I\’ve found a wife\’s name appearing on indexes, but not the husband\’s. I\’ve also found whole segments of a page not showing up at all, so be prepared to have to use the browse function even for the indexed years.
  • Check your local and/or provincial archives. Since the Federal elections depended on municipal voting lists before 1935, many of these are in the custody of that province. Doing a quick search, I found voter\’s lists available at The Rooms in Newfoundland, BaNQ in Quebec, the Archives of Ontario, the Archives of Manitoba, and the Provincial Archives of Alberta. Check with them for years and areas available, and how to access the records.
One last tip. Keep in mind that the requirements to vote have changed through the years. If your ancestor does not show up at all, it could be because they did not meet the eligibility requirements for that particular year. In the historical background section on Ancestry of their Federal Voter\’s Lists collection, they said:

 \”By 1935, the year of the earliest voting records in this database, the franchise had been extended to both men and women age 21 and over for federal elections in Canada. The last property qualifications were done away with in 1948, and exclusions for Inuit and Indians living on reserves were eliminated in 1950 and 1960. In 1970, the voting age was lowered to 18 and the franchise reserved for Canadian citizens, though some British subjects retained their right to vote until 1975.\”

For a more complete history of the vote in Canada take a look at Election Canada\’s website and at the Canadian Encyclopedia\’s page \”Right to Vote in Canada\”.

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