Online Database: India Office Family History Search

This post is the first in an ongoing mini-series highlighting online databases or sources useful for researching the history of families in colonial contexts, whether you are working on an academic project or searching for your ancestors.

This week, I’m introducing the India Office Family History Search.

As many of you know, the British Library’s India Office Records are invaluable resources for those of us studying any aspect of the British involvement on the Indian subcontinent between 1600 and 1948. These collections include the archives of the East India Company (1600-1858), the Board of Control or Board of Commissioners for the Affairs of India (1784-1858), the India Office (1858-1947), the Burma Office (1937-1948), and related British agencies. The geographical focus covers what is now India, Pakistan, Burma and Bangladesh, as well as connected regions such as Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa. The India Office Private Papers—over 300 collections and 3 000 smaller deposits—shed more light on the personal experiences of Europeans in South Asia. (These include rich collections of family letters that passed between India and Britain, the focus of my own research.)

The British Library and India Office Records websites allow researchers to access catalogues for all of these records. The Family History Search page, however, pulls together the specific sources that are most useful for researchers who want to find out about a given individual or family. This is a searchable database of approximately 300 000 records on births, baptisms, marriages, military and naval service, deaths, burials, bonds, pensions and wills in the India Office Records. It also offers useful biographical information on Europeans in British India, compiling information from various records in and beyond the IOR. Individuals include those officially engaged with the East India Company, Indian Civil Service or military, as well as mariners, medical staff, chaplains, railway workers, law officers and ‘non-official’ inhabitants like merchants, tea planters and missionaries. The database does not have digitized versions of the sources, but it does summarize the information for you. (See an example here.) The information is sometimes a little scant. However, a wonderfully detailed list of sources will help you track down the originals if you want.

The Family History Search is not a comprehensive database yet. I have used it when trying to follow a number of individuals in my own research and many have not been included. This is because the information on the website comes from a card index compiled by India Office Records staff over the past three decades; although staff continue to add to it, the site still includes less than 10% of all the biographical sources in collections.

However, there are several exciting benefits to the Family History Search website. This information was previously only accessible via the index in the British Library reading rooms, so its transfer to the internet has opened up these biographical details to a much wider audience. In addition, it is not just limited to those key civil servants and army officers who left their mark on the official record, and whose personal papers have been archived. Rather, it gives a much wider sense of the British and European community in India. And if an individual you are tracking does not seem to have left much of a trace, it’s possible that you may just find them here!

Finally, the website also includes some useful links that point you to other parts of the India Office Records collections. In particular, this page offers a really helpful overview of family research in these collections. The site also explains search services for researchers who cannot find what they want through the database and who cannot visit the British Library in person.

Have you used the India Office Family History Search page before? Chime in with your experiences or tips.

—Laura Ishiguro

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7 Responses to Online Database: India Office Family History Search

  1. wayne says:

    I am in search of Pat Massey, a Jewish girl who escaped from a Nazi death camp in Austria and finally ended up in Karachi, India (now Pakistan). She met a young girl by the name of Alice (both were aged 17 at this time, 1943-44). Alice took her home and had her stay with her family for a few months. Pat met and married a British soldier and the couple went and settled in England without leaving any contact information. Alice is now 87 and would like to get in touch with her. Anyone who knows Pat Massey, please contact me. Sincerely, Wayne Croning.
    Wayne Croning’s photo.
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    I am in search of Pat Massey, a Jewish girl who escaped from a Nazi death camp in Austria and finally ended up in Karachi, India (now Pakistan). She met a young girl by the name of Alice (both were aged 17 at this time, 1943-44). Alice took her home and had her stay with her family for a few months. Pat met and married a British soldier and the couple went and settled in England without leaving any contact information. Alice is now 87 and would like to get in touch with her. Anyone who knows Pat Massey, please contact me. Sincerely, Wayne Croning. Wayne Croning’s photo. LikeLike · · Share
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  2. Rina says:

    I stumbled across your blog post via Google, it is very informative, my British side in India is very new to me and I am trying to learn all I can, thank you!

    • wayne c says:

      Rina, thanks for writing. The school where I studied, was built upon an old British Raj era cemetery. A few graves still remained at the back of the school, even those were finally torn down to make way for more class rooms. I wrote a short story on that. It is believed that Sir Charles Napier’s soldiers were buried there, most died of cholera.]\
      Which part of India did you have connections?

      • Rina says:

        It is so sad that they tore down the remaining graves. My ancestors have a connection to Bangalore and Madras. I have managed to trace it back so far and so did a genealogist a few years ago, but I’ve contacted a researcher for more assistance as I cannot seem to find the records I need online. I find the whole era really interesting!

  3. sharagh bicarie says:

    i have a friend by the name of Pryana Tadepalli, she does not know her father “Vijani Tadepalli ” or anyone from his side of family.
    we heard that her dad had a jewelry store in Jamaica in 2000 but they left the island and headed back to india.
    her mother was pregnant at the time and now pryana is 14 years old, please contact me by email if you have any information that might assist in finding vijani tadepalli

  4. sandra brickley says:

    I am trying to located information on my grandmother to left UK or Ireland and travelled to India as Doctors, they were working for the Mysore Palace South India in 1890’s or earlier Louise Isabella Patton and Ida Patton must have been 20/21 years . Lost complete trace of them Louise married Fredrick Rodricks from Kola Gold Field India.
    Any help would be appreciated

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