Your Ancestors in India
The largest democracy in the world. A fast developing, dynamic country with a strong connection to Britain. One that helped shape the dress, culture and food of the ‘mother country’. A country that is confident and independent in the world, having broken the shackles of the British Empire over 70 years ago. A country that features regularly in Who Do You Think You Are? Surely, somewhere your ancestors have a connection with India?
The Mughal Empire was founded in India in 1526, and much of India as we know it today belonged to this great empire.
Starting with the Portuguese many European States started trading with India and established bases. Queen Elizabeth had given the Honourable East India Company (HEIC) a Royal Charter to trade in 1600, gaining only indirect control of HEIC in 1657. By 1691 the HEIC was a huge business with its own private army, and in control of trade across the East Indies (now Maritime South East Asia). No mean feat as it had arrived after the Portuguese and the Dutch had claimed a dominant role decades before. So dominant was the HEIC that by 1803 its army was twice the size of the standing British Army of the time. It ‘ruled’ India through treaties, force and shear size. The treaty of Paris recognised the British Empire in India in 1763 and now the HEIC was in complete control of trade and arguably the country and its politics. But it wasn’t until 1858 that the British Government took full control of India in the form of the British Raj.
States and Territories
India is organised into 29 States and 7 Union Territories (including a National Capital Territory). The union territories are governed by administrators, appointed by the President of India.
See the links at the end of this article for a listing of these States and Territories.
1947 saw the transfer of HEIC records to the British Library (India Office Library). Have a look at http://indiafamily.bl.uk/UI for further details. Records include birth and baptism plus passenger lists.
The Society of Genealogists (SOG) has a large collection; check out: http://www.sog.org.uk/
The National Archives of India
The first all India census was taken in 1871-1872 and was generally taken at a regional level. It has been taken regularly every 10 years since 1881. Check out: http://nationalarchives.nic.in/content/short-introduction-collections
Very few ‘enumerated’ census data survives (data naming individuals). For the known survivals see the Families in British India Society (FIBIS) Wiki for further guidance (see ‘Sources’).
Contact should be made with the registrar general’s office or the Chief Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages’ of the capital city (of the relevant state, union or territory) you are interested in. The civil registration of births and deaths was introduced in Bengal in 1873, with the rest of India following in 1886. Compliance was low outside the major towns and cities. For marriages you are encouraged to contact the place of worship where the event took place.
Have a look at the Families in British India Society (FIBIS) Wiki for further guidance (see ‘Sources’).
British Military records
The National Archives based in Kew, London is a useful starting place for British Military records in India. The National Army Museum also has records, plus the British Library (for India Office records) and SOG.
There are some useful links and background information to regiments of the British Army on the Families in British India Society (FIBIS) Wiki. For further guidance (see ‘Sources’).
For further support and guidance consider joining the Families in British India Society: http://www.fibis.org/.
Emma Jolly is a well known and highly regarded genealogist, with an interest in European Ancestors in India; well worth following on social media. Keep an eye out for her publications as well as others (www.emmajolly.co.uk).
Research ancestors in other countries
Robert Parker is a Genealogist and Trainer, based in Kent. He delivers courses, guidance, talks and research services for those interested in tracing their ancestors. See https://myfamilygenealogy.co.uk/guidance/ for his 5 steps to discovering your ancestors. Contact Robert to discuss your requirements without obligation.
What stories might your ancestors tell?