Electoral Rolls — A Personal Story

At the risk of sounding like a supernerd, these are my favourite records on Ancestry, even if they’re among the most basic. That’s because a single electoral record changed my whole life.

Firstly, an electoral roll is simply what it says: an alphabetically organised list of registered voters in a specific Australian electorate. In addition to their names, rolls specify people’s addresses, genders and occupations. Like this one:

So here’s how this one line changed my life.

I am adopted. My name wasn’t always Michael Adams. I was born Damian Ingram Nichols. I knew this all my life and also that my birth mother’s name was Daphne Ingram Nichols. I presumed that Ingram Nichols was a double-barrelled surname. For most of my life, I didn’t have any great desire to find my birth family. When the idea did occur over the years, casual Googles returned nothing.

Until they did — a military enlistment reference to a Harold George Ingram Nichols.

What I learned from this was that Ingram wasn’t a surname. It was a middle name.

Armed with this information, I hit Ancestry and found a wealth of Nichols who each had Ingram as a middle name. The most recent was the one above: Bernard’s electoral roll entry, from 1980, so I thought I’d see what I could turn up about him.

Googling his name led me to a Government gazette entry from 2006 that said Bernard had acquired the official status of Lord Howe Islander. Another Internet search revealed he’d relatively recently been the owner and editor of the island’s newspaper, The Signal. So I sent an email to the publication, explaining who I was and asking that my message be passed on to Bernard.

A week passed and I got an email back.

It was from a Mark Nichols and in it he wrote that he strongly felt that we were related and that I should call him if I liked.

With my heart pounding, that’s what I did.

He answered. I said who I was.

“What can you tell me?” I asked.

His reply: “I’m your brother.”

My full brother — same father — and what’s more Mark’s an identical twin to Brett.

I had — have — two brothers, just 18 months younger than me.

Mum — Daphne — is alive and well and we talked the day after my phone call with Mark. The day after that I spoke to Brett.

Turned out Bernard is my uncle, Daphne’s brother. Mum’s a twin, so I’ve also got another uncle, Garth.

Our family goes back to 1842 on Lord Howe and I’m related to about half of the island’s population of 380 or so people. Before this discovery the only blood relative I knew I had was my daughter.

In June 2018 — just six weeks after I found that electoral roll record on Ancestry — my partner and daughter met my mum and brothers and their families for the first time. Six months later, we all had our first Christmas together on Lord Howe.

Like I said, that electoral roll changed my life, which is why I’m a bit biased towards them.

To hear more about the Nichols family of Lord Howe Island, listen to the two-part episode “Australia’s Forgotten Titanic Hero”. And on the following pagse you’ll find more on how to use Electoral Rolls and Immigration & Emigration records.