From the office: Records of British in India go online

By Editor, 30 January 2014 - 1:00pm

As millions of new records from India go online, there has never been a better time to explore your connections to the Empire, says editor Sarah Williams

Wednesday 29 January 2013

Sarah Williams, editor
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When I was a child, my family spent every Christmas at my grandparents’ house and, as part of the festive ritual, a collection of wooden elephants of varying sizes were placed in a triumphant procession down the centre of the dining table. 

I’m not sure if I was ever told that they had come from India but I do remember hearing that my grandmother had been born there (it sounded so exotic and exciting). She also once gave me a box of dried seahorses that I cherished for years before they mysteriously disappeared. I assume those too came from India.

The reason that my grandmother started life there was that her father went in 1910 to work in the Indian Educational Service. He was one of many thousands of people who left Britain to work in India, mostly during the 19th century. Some went because of necessity; some went for adventure or the hope of making more money; some went looking for a husband while others felt it was their religious calling.

Whatever the reason, many thousands of people in Britain will have ancestors who once lived in India, some of whom they may know nothing about. If you suspect you may be one of them, then this new data release from findmypast.co.uk (a result of many months of collaboration with the British Library) could set you on a fascinating path of discovery. And don’t forget to also check out the excellent website of the Families in British India Society (fibis.org). 

Unfortunately, Mima (as we called her) never talked to me about her Indian childhood, and I never asked her. The only story I heard was that her mother went up to a hill station to avoid the heat when she was going to give birth and that the journey back to the regsitrar office was so long it was impossible for them to get her birth registered in time. Apparently her father had to grease a few palms to get his daughter an official birth certificate!  

So clearly, the first thing I did when these records were released was search for my grandmother. And there she is, being baptised on the 1st February 1913, almost two months after her birth in Bankipur. Looking at this document, over a hundred years old, and from a different continent, I feel a new connection to the grandmother I knew and loved.

I will no doubt spend the rest of the day browsing through this amazing collection of records from the British Library and hopefully it will encourage many people to look deeper into their family's involvement with the jewel in the British Empire’s crown.

And as for the wooden elephants? They now grace my sister's table at Christmas, continuing their proud procession, hopefully for generations to come.

 

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