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Q&A: Finding roll call votes, or "divisions" in the House of Commons

Question: How can I find records of votes, member by member, for the House of Commons in the 19th Century?

Answer: Whenever a "Division" or roll call vote was taken, a list was usually made, with all the members on each side, in alphabetical order. An important point: Divisions weren't always taken for the votes on bills, even very important bills. A division was taken only if there was a challenge to the conclusion of the Chair as to a yea or nea voice vote. For the 19th Century, these were sometimes included in the Parliamentary [Sessional] Papers, as Votes and Proceedings, but not in the Debates. The Debates register the fact that a division was taken, and gives a Division List number, if it exists, and sometimes the total votes, but not often the list itself. As a rule, these detailed lists of members votes were not included in the bound sets of the Parliamentary Papers. Over time, they were placed in various locations of the Commons business: sometimes in Votes and Proceedings, sometimes as a separate publication. The Parliament didn't start keeping an official record of members votes until 1836. Before that date, there were many unofficial lists, usually in newspaper accounts or in random letters and manuscripts. For a very interesting account of all this, plus detailed records for member votes for the late 18th and early 19th centuries, see Voting Records of the British House of Commons, 1761-1820, by Donald E. Ginter.

We have an online version of the 19th Century House of Commons Papers, as well as a microfiche set of the Papers published by Chadwyck-Healey.

Now the bad news: The online version of the Parliamentary Papers doesn't include the Division Lists. The Division Lists are the compilations of the names and votes of members on particular bills. Therefore, for the 19th Century, we must depend on a set of microfiche of these Division Lists. They cover the votes from 1836 through 1910.

A researcher might check the Debates, find out if/when a division was taken, and then use the Division Lists microfiche for the record of the votes. This has all the official Division Lists for the period 1836 to 1910.

The Chadwyck-Healey Subject Catalogue [index] of the House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, 1801-1900, which goes with their Parliamentary Papers fiche, includes a subject finding list of the Division Lists from 1842 through 1900, in Volume 1, pages 153-154. These can also be searched in the online Parliamentary Papers with a phrase search of "return of the number of divisions", and a date limit of 1842-1900. But, as indicated, these are simply subject lists, with total votes on each bill, and they do not include the names of members. For the members names, one must use the microfiche of the Division Lists.

Below are all the catalog records for our current holdings of the Parliamentary Debates. Currently, the Debates are not available in electronic format before 1988.

From 1988 on, all the debates are available online from the House of Commons.

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