Finding soldiers through the 1918 Absent Voters Lists

There was a General Election in Britain in 1918. Details of men in the armed forces who were away from home were named on Absent Voters Lists (see details below). These often recorded the man’s regiment, number and rank at the time, as well as his home address. Crucially, in many cases they also give his unit. The lists are not held centrally and are not 100% in existence. They are held at a variety of County Records Offices or local history sections of main libraries of the area where the man lived in 1918. Some have been digitised and made available via the Findmypast service;’ some are held at the British Library. If all you know is the soldier’s name but are reasonably certain you know where he lived, this is not a bad place to search.

Extract form the Birmingham Absent Voters List 1918. Birmingham Central Library.

Extract form the Birmingham Absent Voters List 1918. Birmingham Central Library.

Lists known to be freely available online

Lists known to be available for purchase or pay-per-view including those at Findmypast

Information about existing lists

Other lists known to be available in libraries/archives

  • Barnsley 1918 and 1919 are held in Barnsley Archives
  • Birkenhead East is held at Birkenhead Library
  • Brixton in London is available from Lambeth Archives. I am told that they charge £5 to photocopy the relevant person’s entry but will confirm if the person is on the lists free of charge
  • Flintshire lists are held at Flintshire Record Office in Hawarden
  • Fulham 1920 is held at the London Metropolitan Archives
  • Kennington in London: same as Brixton, above
  • Leicester lists are available at the county record centre at Wigston Magna (sadly they do not give regimental details)
  • Lewisham 1918 is held at the London Metropolitan Archives
  • Manchester is held at the Central Library in Manchester
  • Norwich is held at the Central Library in Norwich
  • Reading (spring 1923 list) is available on microfiche at Berkshire Record Office
  • Somerset lists for 1918 and 1919 are available at the Somerset Heritage Centre in Taunton
  • Southwark 1919 is held at the London Metropolitan Archives
  • Wandsworth 1918-1920 is held at the London Metropolitan Archives
  • Kennington and Brixton in London are available from Lambeth Archives. I am told that they charge £5 to photocopy the relevant person’s entry but will confirm if the person is on the lists free of charge
  • City of York 1918 and 1919 lists are held in York Central Library

If you know of any more AVLs or are compiling an online version of a list, please contact me and I will add yours to this index.

How the lists were compiled

The voters details for the 1918 election were initially supplied by the next of kin of the household of the soldier to local voter registration officers.  Once this process was completed, the names of those in the army were sent to the Adjutant General’s Department of the War Office, who then arranged to send voting cards to soldiers who were in the United Kingdom and ballot papers to men in France, Flanders and Italy. Men serving in more distant theatres of war were allowed to vote through use of a proxy voting form.

The hurried and rather haphazard nature of collecting the original information at home meant that some men were missed out altogether and the details given for others often inaccurate. Nonetheless if a researcher is faced with looking for a man with a common name but without knowledge of any military details, the Absent Voters List can be a valuable resource.