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Q and A

HOW CAN I FIND AN INDIAN BIRTH?

Q

My questions are about where to start with tracing some ancestors under difficult circumstances.

My mother’s birth was registered in Bangalore, India. She is British. I know both these pieces of information from an old British passport. She was born in 1933 and lived in Kodai Kanal remote hill station; graduated from a school there (Presentation Convent) and went to England at some time in the 1940s. Where can I start looking to obtain a copy of my mother’s birth certificate?

There were also a couple of sons born to my grandmother. How can I find who these were? I found a death record of a Cecil Phillip John Harris-Ross, who may be one of them. His name matched the name appearing on my mother’s marriage certificate for her father.

I would also like to know more about her mother and father. My grandmother died in London in 1993 and the death was registered as ‘Harris-Ross’. The same event was also registered as ‘Ross’. Would purchasing the death certificate give me any useful information? Would they both be the same apart from the name?

I would also like a copy of my grandmother’s marriage certificate. I think that her husband may have been a Harris (not a Harris-Ross). Also, where can I find my grandmother’s birth certificate? I have no idea where she was born. I do not know if I can trust the birth date recorded (1912) with the index of her death. We know there was ‘confusion’ at the end of her working life about just how old she was. She looked British but I am just presuming she was. She once said their line was Scottish, but I can find nothing in Scottish or English records of birth or marriage.

Susan George,


A

As your mother was born in India in 1933, any reference to her birth and/or baptism should be in the records held in the Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections at the British Library in Euston, London (96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB). These include the India Office Records, which are administered by The British Library as part of the Public Records of the United Kingdom, and are open for public consultation. The Ecclesiastical Returns are contemporary copies of registers of baptisms, marriages and burials sent to London for the information of the East India Company and the India Office. The practice was begun by the chaplains of the East India Company’s principal settlements, and records date from the early 18th century to 1947. The returns relate almost entirely to European and Eurasian Christians. Registration of births was not compulsory and very few are entered in the records. Registrations do not generally appear until the 1920s.

The India Office Family History Search database (http://indiafamily.bl.uk/UI) contains around 300,000 records for British and European people in India between 1600 and 1949. The information included on the website is taken from a card index available at the British Library which was compiled by members of staff at the India Office Records from the mid-1970s onwards. Although it covers less than ten per cent of the biographical sources available in the India Office Records, included are births and baptisms for the Bengal Presidency, July 1933 to 1948, but not for the Madras and Bombay Presidencies for this period.

As Bangalore was in the Madras Presidency you will have to search, or have someone search for you, the Ecclesiastical Returns at the British Library. If your mother’s birth is located then the entry should give your grandparents’ names and your grandfather’s occupation. While this search is being undertaken, it needs to be extended to include any of the siblings your grandmother is believed to have had.

The reference you have found in the 1993 Indexes to Deaths relates to the same certificate: by this time double-barreled names are indexed under both parts of the name. English and Welsh certificates are very different to their Australian equivalents and give little information in comparison. Until 1968 you only find name, age, date and place of death, occupation (or possibly for a woman, wife or widow), cause of death and name and address of informant (possibly with relationship). From 1969 you additionally get date and place of birth and more recently the maiden surname for a woman who has married. It is therefore essential that you obtain your grandmother’s death certificate to discover both where she was born and her maiden name.

 

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