Hidden history of the British in India


  • 2.5 million records chronicling the lives of early expats from all walks of life now online for the first time
  • India Office Records spanning over two centuries of the British In India from the East India Company to the Raj through to Indian Independence now scanned and fully searchable
  • Available online for the first time at www.findmypast.co.uk

(29 January 2014)  Findmypast.co.uk, the leading family history website, and the British Library announced today the online publication of 2.5 million records detailing the lives of the British in India from 1698 to 1947.

Covering over 200 years of rich and colourful history, the newly-released records chronicle the lives of Europeans living in areas under British influence and include individuals from all walks of life. Soldiers, army officers, surgeons, doctors, wealthy merchants, members of the military, civil, legal and public works establishments, their families and many others such as traders, planters, missionaries and mariners can all be found within the collection.

Previously only accessible as original documents or on microfilm at the British Library’s Reading Rooms at St. Pancras, the British in India collection can now be explored online at findmypast.co.uk anywhere at any time. Fully indexed and easily searchable, the records can be searched for free and scans of the original documents can be downloaded for less than £1. No expert knowledge is needed, allowing anyone to begin uncovering the lives of their ancestors who headed east.

The details of their lives and deaths are documented in a variety of records ranging from returns of baptisms, marriages and burials, civil and military pensions and wills, to East India Company cadet papers and applications for the civil service. The British in India collection makes it possible to find missing ancestors and build a vivid and detailed picture of what life was like for those early expats.

Among the highlights are:

  • · Baptism records of influential writers including The Jungle Book’s Rudyard Kipling and 1984 author George Orwell
  • · The burial certificate of Napoleon Bonaparte on St Helena, and details of his tender friendship with a young teenage girl who called him ‘Boney’
  • · A surprising connection that proves Prime Minister David Cameron is related to ‘Pub landlord’ Al Murray
  • · Brigadier-General John Nicholson: a Victorian military officer who died leading the British assault on Delhi during the Indian Mutiny
  • · The Bruce Brothers: Charles and Robert Bruce, two Scottish brothers who established the first commercial tea plantation for the East India Company after discovering tea plants being grown by the local population in Assam, a north-eastern state in India. Today, over half of India’s output of tea comes from Assam
  • · The lives of women in India, from top officials’ wives to girls who attended the orphan schools, have been brought out of the shadows now that women are fully indexed for the first time in the online resource

“The period covered by these records was absolutely fascinating and includes some of the most important events in the history of the British Empire” comments Debra Chatfield from findmypast. “The 2.5 million records cover every aspect of life, and provide snapshots of those at the top, middle and bottom of society. These vividly detailed records will help to unlock family mysteries and overcome dead ends in research, as family history enthusiasts can now go beyond the boundaries of UK family history and look further afield than ever before. The British in India collection really is a goldmine of enthralling lives and stories just waiting to be explored.”

“Everyone wants to know where they’ve come from, which is why family history is increasingly popular,” said Penny Brook, Lead Curator of India Office Records at the British Library. “The British Library’s partnership with findmypast.co.uk has meant that for the first time these incredible records are available online. People can continue to access the records for free on site at the Library, but putting them online makes these primary sources easily accessible for anyone across the UK or around the world. This huge project means that it is now easier than ever before to uncover the lives of Britons who headed east and will provide new insights into a fascinating period of our history.”

The records will be of interest not only to family historians, but also social historians, academic researchers and biographers. Insights can be gained into the culture of British India as the records reveal much about the careers and family lives of expats, the offices of power and the men who held them, infant mortality, Anglo Indian marriages and family relationships.

The press release is here.