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Contributed: 30 Dec 1996

California's Great Registers

Contributed by J. Carlyle Parker

Some of the following is summarized from my seventeen page published paper presented for the World Conference on Records and Genealogical Seminar, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1969, "Sources of Californiana: From Padron to Voter Registration" (available through most Family History Centers on microfiche 6039417, 1 fiche and microfilm 0897217 Item 31):

California's Registry Act of 1866 established the Great Register. All voters (only males over 21 years of age) were required to register providing their full name, age, state or country of birth, occupation, and address. The registers are by the initial letter of the surname and entered chronologically as the voters registered, similar to the ledger book indexes to land and probate records.

The voters precinct's name or number was added to the ledger and, in the registers that I have used, when the voter moved clerks drew a red pencil line through his name and the above mentioned data and wrote in the county to which he moved or the date of his death, if they moved to boot hill, or the date when some were declared insane or infirm. Notes also included moving to another precinct within the county and naturalization dates and the name of the granting court. I refer to these early registers as manuscript great registers. These manuscript ledgers were permitted to be discontinued by the amended Political Code in 1909. They are still usually housed in the county court house, archive, library, or museum. Their availability and location before 1919 is provided in the California Historical Survey Commission's Guide to the County Archives of California (Sacramento: California State Printing Office, 1919) and for a few counties for which a survey was completed and reported in Historical Records Survey, California, Inventory of the County Archives of California (San Francisco: 1937-1943).

California's 1872 Political Code included the mandate for counties to print alphabetical lists of voters every other year, thus creating a printed index to the manuscript great register. However, seventy-one per cent of California counties started printing indexes in 1867, and eighty-two per cent were printing indexes before 1872. The Code also included instructions to provide the California State Library with a bound printed copy of each alphabetical list.

In 1895 a revision added the voter's description, including height, complexion, color of eyes and hair, location of visible marks or scars, and ability to read the English language and to write. For most of the years of this century the printed list of registered voters contain only the name, address, and party affiliation.

The recommendations of my paper included a suggestion that an inventory of county court house collections be made to locate copies of the indexes missing from or never sent to the State Library and not available at the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. I also suggested that the indexes and the manuscript great registers be microfilmed.

Some of the manuscript great registers had been microfilmed before 1969 and a few since. The State Library collection of bound indexes, generally for the years from 1867 to 1898 for most counties was microfilmed in 1975 by the Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah and generally for the years from 1900 to 1944 for most counties by Custom Microfilm Systems, Inc. of Riverside, California in 1986. The microfilm of both filmings has been added to the State Library's collection. After microfilming the bound indexes, because of an acute shortage of shelf space, the bound indexes were offered to the counties. Those not wanted by county agencies, archives, or libraries were destroyed. The Family History Library has also microfilmed some registers from county court house holdings.

Microfilm copies of those microfilmed and owned by the Family History Library, Salt Lake City, may also be borrowed through the services of the Family History Centers (branches) of the Family History Library. Details of what is held for each county may be ascertained by consulting the Family History Library Catalog, Locality Catalog either on microfiche or on the CD-ROM program, FamilySearch. This catalog is not available online or on the Internet. The indexes and what few microfilm copies of the manuscript great registers exist may be found under the subject heading "CALIFORNIA - (name of county) - VOTING REGISTERS." Under the subject heading "CALIFORNIA - VOTING REGISTERS" there is a collection of microfilm for several indexes that were microfilmed at the Los Angeles Public Library: Miscellaneous County Voting Register, 1867-1890, FHL# 1434237-1434238.

The California State Genealogical Alliance's 1890 Great Register Project was proposed to assist genealogists in part to bridge the gap caused by the loss of the 1890 census schedules, by creating a statewide index to the bound volume indexes deposited with the California State Library and microfilmed by the Family History Library. Volunteers inputting the data in these records were encouraged to check the great register indexes with the manuscript great register to check the accuracy of the indexes and to add the moving and other notes added to the manuscript great registers.

J. Carlyle Parker, Turlock CA 12/30/96