6 best websites for tracing your family in India like Olivia Colman

By Guest, 9 July 2018 - 9:01pm

The British in India on a tea plantation
Owners and workers on a tea plantation, India, 1880 (Credit: Mansell/ The LIFE Picture Collection/ Getty)

Inspired by Olivia Colman's episode, Jonathan Scott shares his top online resources for tracing your family in India


1. Families in British India Society 


With annual membership starting at £15, any researcher with a family connection to British India should consider joining the Families in British India Society (FIBIS).

Even if you don’t, you’ll still find lots of useful content via the website – although some features are only open to members.

The highlight for passing visitors is FIBIwiki, an exhaustive encyclopaedia for researching British India, offering guides to records in the UK and elsewhere, plus articles explaining the kinds of problems you might face.

Elsewhere the FIBIS database now boasts more than 1,883,100 names drawn from all sorts of sources contributed by volunteers.

2. British India Office Collection on Findmypast

The Findmypast/British Library British India Office Collection contains records from the 17th to the 20th century.

The collection includes records of the East India Company, together with baptism, marriage and burial entries that were originally gathered from churches all over South Asia (including Burma, but excluding Ceylon) between 1698 and 1948.

Many of the records were created to keep track of exactly who was in India, so there is a heavy bias towards British and Anglo-Indian individuals, rather than Indians.

Other parts of the collection cover probate material, civil employee and military pension records. There is also a list of British casualties of the 1857 Indian Mutiny.

3. Ancestors from India

For anyone starting to research Indian ancestors, this article posted on Dick Eastman’s popular blog last summer will quickly give you a flavour of what’s in store.

It is written by Smita Biswas of the West Auckland Research Centre, who was born in India. Her clear and readable introduction covers names, records, communities, customs and religion, with links to other online resources.

She doesn’t shy away from the fact that many sources (including birth, marriage and death records) simply won’t be available for ancestors born before the 1950s, particularly in rural areas.

4. National Archives of India 

The official custodian of records deemed to be of enduring value to the government of India was established on 11 March 1891 in Calcutta.

It was originally known as the Imperial Records Department, and today, as the National Archives of India, runs several branches.

The archives’ website does not have swaths of genealogical material online, but it gives a flavour of what’s here and the priorities of the organisation.

When researching any archive in India, this page from the aforementioned FIBIwiki shares valuable insider knowledge.

5. FamilySearch: India Genealogy

Easter Rising Dublin

This FamilySearch wiki serves as a useful introduction to the subject, with some specialised articles (including the genealogical records of medieval India, India military records, and naturalisation and citizenship) and online resources (mainly via ancestry.co.uk and findmypast.co.uk).

There are free digitised collections here too, such as images of land ownership pedigrees (1887–1958). Written in Urdu and Punjabi, the records include pedigrees kept at the district level to show familial relationships as land was passed from father to son.

6. Expert's choice: British Association for Cemeteries in South Asia (BACSA

Chosen by Peter Bailey, the president of the Families in British India Society:

“Our goal is to provide researchers with as much helpful information as possible, and this includes links to outside organisations that have useful online resources. Foremost among these is the British Association for Cemeteries 
in South Asia (BACSA).

BACSA is currently celebrating 40 years since it was founded by the renowned Theon Wilkinson for the purpose of preserving European graveyards in South-East Asia from the ravages of the region’s weather and acts of locally approved, or unapproved, vandalism.

The association finances the construction and maintenance of boundary walls, associated buildings and more, to the tune of several thousand pounds each year. More recently, BACSA has developed its own searchable database, operating along similar lines to the one that we use at FIBIS.

The association’s website includes details of its extensive files on many of the individual graveyards under its care, and the combined database has information about a large number of burials and inscriptions. Indeed BACSA has kindly permitted FIBIS to incorporate much of the data here on our own website.”

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