Wednesday, July 27, 2011

California Voter Registers, 1866-1898 on

One of the newest databases on is the California Voter Registers, 1866-1898.  The original data was obtained from the Great Registers, 1866–1898. Microfilm, 185 rolls. California State Library, Sacramento, California.  The database description says:

"The printed copies of the California Great Registers making up this database were compiled at the county level by district, as required by an 1866 law, and list names of eligible voters in California.

"The first voter registrations in California took place in 1866 following the Registry Act, an effort to prevent voter fraud that called for 'the registration of the citizens of the State, and for the enrollment in the several election districts of all the legal voters thereof, and for the prevention and punishment of frauds affecting the elective franchise.' An 1872 law required counties to publish an index or alphabetical listing of all registered voters every two years. These lists were kept by the county clerk and eventually were usually printed in even-numbered years, though a few counties, including San Francisco, published them yearly for a few years at a time. The voter lists produced are known as the Great Registers, and this database contains the printed copies of the registers produced by the county clerks.

"Only men over the age of 21 were eligible to vote until 1911, when women were granted the right, and the state occasionally passed other exclusionary voting laws: an 1879 state constitutional amendment denied franchise to natives of China (it was repealed in 1926), and an 1894 law established a literacy requirement."

I found ten entries for my wife's great-grandfather, Elijah Pickrell McKnew (1836-1912):

*  1868 in Tuolumne County:  McKnew, Elijah, age 32, nativity Maryland, occupation Farmer, residence Tuttletown, registered Sept. 29, 1868
*  1876 in San Francisco:  McKnew, Elijah Pickens, age 40, nativity Maryland, occupation Teamster, residence 19th n Castro, Ward 11
*  1880 in San Francisco:  McKnew, Elijah Pickering, age 44, nativity Maryland, occupation Driver, residence SW s 19th, b Cas & Sher, floor All, registered Sept. 21, 1880
*  1882 in San Francisco: Voting No. 196, Reg'd No. 147, name McKnew, Elijah, age 47, nativity Maryland, occupation Salesman, residence 1013 Nineteenth, registered Oct. 3, 1882
*  1886 in San Francisco:  Voting No. 185, Reg'd No. 96, name McKnew, Elijah Pickrell, age 50, nativity Maryland, occupation Teamster, residence 1013 Nineteenth, registered Sept. 21, 1886
* 1888 in San Francisco:  Voting No. 203, Reg'd No. 174, name McKnew, Elijah, age 53, nativity Maryland, occupation Driver, residence 1013 Nineteenth, registered Oct. 11, 1888
*  1890 in San Francisco:  Voting No. 160, Reg'd No. 201, name McKnew, Elijah Pickrill, age 54, nativity Maryland, occupation Merchant, residence 1013 Nineteenth, registered Oct. 16, 1890
*  1892 in San Francisco:  Voting No. 204, Reg'd No. 124, name McKnew, Elijah Pickrel, age 60, height 5 ft 7-1/4 in, complexion Fr, eye color Br, hair color Med, visible marks Mole right eye, occupation Fruit dealer, nativity Maryland, residence 1015 19th, floor T, registered Sept. 26, 1892
*  1896 in San Francisco:  Voting No. 180, Reg'd No. 3, name McKnew, Elijah Pickrel, age 61, height 5 ft 7-1/4 in, complexion Fr, eye color Br, hair color Gr, occupation Oysterman, nativity Maryland, residence 1017 Nineteenth, floor 2, room All, registered June 1, 1896, read Constitution and write name Yes, mark ballot Yes
*  1898 in San Francisco:  Voting No. 170, Reg'd No. 159, name McKnew, Elijah Pickrel, occupation Oysters, age 63, height 5 ft 6-3/4 in, complexion Dk, eye color Hzl, hair color Gr, nativity Ireland, residence 4131 Nineteenth, floor All, registered Aug. 10, read Constitution and write name Yes, mark ballot Yes

Isn't that an interesting list?  What can be learned from listing persons over a period of time like the above?

*  Names:  Of the seven entries where he gave a middle name, there are 5 different spellings.  I believe that it was Pickrell, after his mother's maiden name. 
*  Age and birthplace:  He was born in 1836, and all of his ages are within one year of what they should be, except 1892 when it is four years off.  His nativity is listed as Maryland until 1898 where he lists it as Ireland (perhaps because he thought McKnew was an Irish name?)
*  Occupation:  there are eight different occupations listed over 32 years!
*  Residence:  the family moved to San Francisco in or before 1876, and lived on 19th Street the whole time.  although the address changed over time, the residence was two buildings beside each other; the address system in San Francisco changed by the 1898 registration.
*  Height, complexion, eye color and hair color:  started with the 1892 registration.
*  Literacy:  by 1896, they started listing if the person could read the constitution, write their name and were able to mark their ballot.

One of the most important pieces of information for many persons in these Great Registers is the naturalization information - the date, place and court.  Elijah was a natural born U.S. citizen, so no naturalization record was listed.

These Voting Registers can be seen as a census substitute, and a city directory substitute. 

I have several more family names to research in this database!


Teresa Costa Fraser said...


OMG. Thanks so much for writing this post. Just found my ggrandfather, Antone Enos Costa in Alameda County. Also has his naturalization info listed. What a find! Whoo Hoo. I'm off to check a few more of my Azorean relatives. I will share your post with the Google Azorean group. Thanks again.

Regards, Teresa Fraser

Jean said...

Thanks much for this post! Checking on Hoffman family in San Francisco revealed a new piece to the puzzle (see Together in San Francisco).

Elena said...

Do you know where I locate just the labels/questions at the top of the 1896 register?
Many thanks.