Did your Scottish ancestors come from the traditional county of Linlithgowshire? Search through the electoral registers of Linlithgowshire (known as West Lothian today). The electoral registers, held by the British Library, are now available for the first time online to search by name, constituency, polling district or using the keyword field to search for a street name.
Each record will include an image of the original register and a transcription box to the left of the image. The details in the image can vary depending on the year the register was created and the necessary qualifications for those entitled to vote. In most registers you will find
Occupation or calling
Proprietor or tenant
Description of property, land, house, etc
Name of place, village or farm
After 1918, as the electorate grew, it was necessary to designate who could vote in which elections. For this reason, the registers for the County of Linlithgow include specific symbols for each qualification, which appear before the individual’s name.
The symbols include
A – Entitled to vote at all parliamentary and local elections
B – Entitles to vote only at parliamentary elections
C – Entitled to vote only at local government elections
D – Entitled to vote only at local government elections (excepting county council elections)
a – Entitled to vote only at parliamentary elections as absent voters
This is the small text box on the left-hand side of the screen. It will provide you with the following information:
Year – Registers are dated using the year they were compiled, not the year they were in force, as is British Library practice. For example, the register of Parliamentary County of Linlithgowshire states, ‘Persons entitled to vote at any election of a member to serve in Parliament for the County of Linlithgow which shall take place between 21st day of October 1900 and the 1st day of November 1901.’ Findmypast has recorded the year as 1901.
Polling district or place – This will include polling districts or wards. Civil parishes are not indexed and will need to be searched by keyword.
Archive and British Library shelfmark
Searching PDFs is a different experience to searching other indexed records. Use our search tips provided below as a guide.
The registers are from the traditional county of Linlithgowshire. The county became West Lothian in 1921. It is one of 34 traditional counties in Scotland. It is the second smallest mainland county in Scotland and is located south of the River Forth between Glasgow and Edinburgh.
The electoral registers are held at the British Library. The library retains the national set of current and non-current electoral registers, which form part of the 150 million plus items in its collections. In 2004, the registers took up 3.21868km or 2 miles of shelving. Approximately 800 volumes are added to the collection each year. Assuming the number of volumes and size remains the same (c. 40.64m per year), by 2024 the registers will take up more than 4km of shelving.
Electoral Registers are a powerful resource for genealogists. For the first time, these registers are available online and can be searched by name. Previously, when researching your family history you would need an address in order to find your ancestor in the register for that constituency. Today, we can search by name across thousands of places to discover your ancestors.
What are electoral registers?
Electoral registers are lists, created annually, of people who are eligible and registered to vote. These lists would include reasons for eligibility, such as their ownership or occupation of a property as a tenant or, in some cases, as a lodger. Until 1918, the right to vote was closely linked to property.
Electoral registers were first introduced in 1832 with the Great Reform Act. As the number of voters increased and polling days were reduced to one, there was a need to establish the right to vote in advance of the polling day. To that end, electoral registers were created.
Electoral registers are a special resource for family historians because you can discover your ancestors in an exact location between the census years. Also, through the registers you can discover the history of your family home, such as its former occupants. Have you ever renovated and found layers of wallpaper or discovered items from a previous owner in your attic? Is it possible that someone famous lived in your house? Now you can find the names of those who called your house their home for a period of time. Furthermore, you can see how the area around your home developed over the years as new homes or businesses were built.
For help in identifying relevant constituencies, read the British Library’s Parliamentary Constituencies and Their Registers Since 1832 available in Useful Links and Resources. In this publication, beginning on page 34, is a list of constituencies in alphabetical ordering, which includes the years that each constituency existed and the years of electoral registers held by the British Library. Additionally, the British Library shelfmark and any additional notes will be included.
Voting Reform Laws
The nineteenth century witnessed significant changes to the voting laws and the representation of the people. Prior to 1832, voting rights were limited and representation was unbalanced in Parliament. As the working class grew with the Industrial Revolution, pressure was placed on Parliament to reform both the people’s voting rights and their system of representation. The early nineteenth century saw massive public meetings, riots and even conspiracies against the government. Reform first came in 1832 with the Great Reform Act. The rest of the century saw a number of reforms passed and by the early twentieth-century universal suffrage had started to come to Great Britain.
Representation of the People (Scotland) Act 1832
The act, also known as the Great Reform Act, increased the franchise in Scotland from 5,000 to 65,000 voters. The population of Scotland in 1832 was around 2,300,000 people. It also gave Scotland an additional eight members of Parliament, increasing the number of Scottish MPs to 53 in total. In 1832, the borough franchise was standardised and simplified and the existing county franchise was supplemented by a complex variety of new franchises. In burghs, the franchise was now extended to both the £10 householder who occupied property, either as owner or tenant, worth £10 per year and to lodgers, as long as the value of the occupied property divided by the total number of lodgers exceeded £10 per year. In all cases, the householder had to have been in possession of the property for twelve months. In Scottish counties, 40-shilling freeholders, who previously qualified for the vote, were joined by £10 freeholders (henceforth the basic qualification), £10 copyholders or long leaseholders (for 57 years) and £50 tenants or short leaseholders (for 19 years) or joint tenants whose separate interests amounted to 40-shilling freehold or £10 leasehold. The vote was also extended to certain mortgagees, annuitants and shareholders in landed property of sufficient value, as well as to certain office-holders, beneficed clergy, irremovable schoolmasters, parish clerks and sextants. Furthermore, the Reform Act disenfranchised most of the rotten boroughs, which were boroughs with a very small electorate that were being used for undue representation in the House of Commons. For example, Old Sarum at Salisbury had only seven voters but two MPs.
Representation of the People (Scotland) Act 1868
The 1868 Reform Act extended the borough franchise to all householders subject to a one-year residential qualification and the payment of rates and to lodgers who had occupied lodgings worth £10 per year for at least one year. It also extended the county franchise by including those occupying land worth £12 per year or owning land worth £5 a year. As a result, representation was increased for industrial centres and decreased for the smaller towns. Women and poor men were still denied the right to vote in Parliamentary elections. The act also created three new constituencies for Scotland: two university constituencies, one for Glasgow and Aberdeen and one for Edinburgh and St Andrews, and one constituency for Hawick Burghs.
Secret Ballot Act of 1872
The Secret Ballot Act of 1872 required that all parliamentary and local elections be held by secret ballot. Prior to this Act, landlords or employers could be present during the voting process and allowed to check individual votes, allowing for voter bribery and intimidation. A second act, The Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act of 1883, was passed as a further measure to remove bribery from voting.
Franchise Act of 1884
The 1884 Reform Act extended the 1867/68 householder and lodger franchise for boroughs/burghs to counties and created an occupation franchise for those with lands or tenements worth £12 a year. For the first time the franchise was substantially uniform in constituencies throughout Great Britain. This meant the vote was further extended across the male working class population.
1918 Representation of the People Act
This act enfranchised all men over the age of 21 and any woman over the age of 30 who was “entitled to be registered as a local government elector in respect of the occupation in that constituency of land or premises (not being a dwelling-house) of a yearly value of not less than five pounds or of a dwelling-house, or is the wife of a husband entitled to be so registered.” It abolished the property qualifications for men. Also, men over the age of 19 and currently serving in the armed forces could vote. Many of their names can be found on the Absent Voters Lists. A separate vote was given to those with a business qualification and to graduates of British Universities. These changes saw the size of the electorate triple from 7.7 million to 21.4 million. Women now accounted for about 43% of the electorate.
1928 Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act
The act expanded the 1918 law and gave the vote to all women over the age of 21 regardless of property ownership. The act was passed by the Conservative Party and became law on 2 July 1928.
Searching a PDF is a different experience to searching transcribed records. To help you find your ancestor, we have put together search tips to guide you. Remember that you are searching records that have been digitally scanned and then converted to machine-encoded text using Optical Character Recognition (OCR). This process is not perfect and the machine may have misread characters, especially in personal names, which causes searches to fail. Try alternative approaches such as repeating the search in a different year, or scanning all the voters in a civil parish
Searching for names
The search returns results based on proximity (how close together the words are located), thus a search for Henry Smith will also bring back William Henry Smith or a search for John Smith, may return John Prickett on Smith Street.
The name variant search check box will not work with a PDF search. Instead, try searching for your ancestor using multiple spellings of their name. For example, your Great Aunt Katherine may have spelt her name as Catherine or possibly the Brook family used to have an ‘e’ on the end and spelt the name as Brooke.
Use the keyword field to do a wildcard search. By inserting an asterisk on either side of the word, it will search for various spellings of that word. For example, ()Geo() will return Gregory and George.
In some registers, the first name was abbreviated. If you cannot find your ancestor by their first name, try an abbreviated spelling. For example, the name William could be listed as W or Wm.
When searching for a name starting with ‘Mc,’ such as McManus or McNeeny, you may want to try a second search as M'Manus or M'Neeny. In some cases, it is difficult for the search function to pick up the superscript ‘c’.
Try dropping the apostrophe for names with an ‘O’ prefix. For example, instead of searching for O’Malley, search for OMalley or even Malley to get more results.
In this search experience, you are searching through the original text as it was recorded. Therefore, you may come across local variants or accidental misspellings, such as, the use of sewerage farm in Cambridgeshire Western Division instead of the normal sewage farm.
Constituencies have changed throughout the century as voting laws developed and the franchise was extended. To find your ancestor, search through multiple constituencies or places. For more help with the changing nature of constituencies over the years, refer to the British Library’s Parliamentary Constituencies and their Registers since 1832, which is available in the Useful Links and Resources.
Many of the registers will have a street index or directory at the beginning of the document. You can either get to the beginning by continuously clicking the previous button on the PDF screen or you can start a new search for the constituency and year and then order the results by image number. By doing so, the top image would be the first page and you could then click through the images from the beginning.