Beginners' Guide

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The FIBIwiki contains lots of guidance for starting out on your British India research. It is recommended that you read through this page before contacting FIBIS for personal research services (Members) or research advice (non-Members).

Scope of FIBIS' Interest

The main focus of FIBIS activities is the ‘sub-continent’ of India but the society is also interested in all areas and activities of the British in South Asia including the following between the founding of the East India Company in 1599 to ‘Indian Independence’ in 1947:

Afghanistan, Aden, Andaman Islands, Bangladesh, Bencoolen (Sumatra, Indonesia), Burma (Myanmar), Ceylon (Sri Lanka), China, Macao & Hong Kong, Indonesia (Borneo, Labuan etc.), Malaysia, Mauritius, Persia, Singapore, Straits Settlements.

Also included are the activities of the East India Company in London and St. Helena.



Administrative areas of India in the 1930s

British India was divided into three Presidencies:

  • Bombay, which covered the smallest area on the west of the country, extending through Sind and to the coastal area of what is now Pakistan, including Karachi and also included Aden
  • Madras, which covered the southern portion of India

The main cities of the Presidencies were Bombay, Calcutta and Madras, respectively.

Knowing which Presidency a town or city was in, is important when consulting many of the India Office Records held at the British Library.

Also note that administrative boundaries changed from time to time and it is important to check 'border' districts in the adjoining area. The above map is adapted from Plate 21 of the (1931) revised atlas of the Imperial Gazetteer of India. Such small scale maps cannot show every enclave of territory, and this map is not to be taken as an authority for boundaries. For more detail see the provincial maps in the Imperial Gazetteer atlas, and large scale published Survey of India topographical maps.

Recommended steps for your research

The very first steps

  • Search the main online databases, consisting of free sites, and a commercial site.
There are three free websites:
  1. FIBIS database contains information from many sources.
  2. FamilySearch - which is the website of the Mormon Latter Day Saints Church (LDS). To search the records you must "Sign In", located at the top right hand corner of the website - initial registration is required.
  3. British Library, India Office Family History Search. Contains only a small proportion of the total records.
Commercial sites: findmypast is the main site for India related records. The India related records available on Ancestry are mostly a duplicate of those to be found on the free FamilySearch site.
The commercial site findmypast and the free Familysearch web site host a large volume of transcriptions based on the India Office church records housed at the British Library.
Note: Only findmypast contains images of the records, which generally contain additional information to the transcriptions, such as occupational details, which may be very helpful for your research.
Some later records for baptisms and marriages are not available with full details for privacy reasons on findmypast. For those unable to visit the British Library, alternative records are available for later births and marriages on FamilySearch digitised microfilms, and previously issued microfilms, see FamilySearch and FamilySearch Centres. If FamilySearch Centres are not geographically convenient, copies of records may be requested from the British Library for a fee.
  • Search the archives of the Rootsweb India List. You may find that someone else has already researched the family tree you are interested in. Read how to do this, and more about the now discontinued India List, in the Fibiwiki link Mailing lists.
  • Consider joining your local genealogy society as most large societies, in addition to other services, provide members free online access in their libraries to commercial sites such as Findmypast and/or Ancestry, and possibly many other additional genealogy websites which would otherwise require payment. This is especially relevant as the church records at the British Library are now digitised and available through Findmypast. Some Borough/Local Government and/or County/State and/or National libraries may also offer free access to websites such as Findmypast and Ancestry, see Miscellaneous tips. Some of the larger genealogy societies have become FamilySearch Affiliate Libraries where it is possible to view many, but not all, 'restricted' FamilySearch digitised records which are not available on home computers. For more details see FamilySearch Centres. Findmypast and Ancestry (and additional sites) are also available at FamilySearch Centres.

The next steps

  • By now, you may have some occupational details.
    • For officers and soldiers in the Military, read Armies in India and all the associated articles and links which are relevant to your research.
    • Look at Category:Occupations, and read the articles and links about occupations relevant to your research.

Further steps

Visiting the British Library

  • Advice For Your First Visit to the APAC Reading Rooms - Advice from the Chairman of the Families In British India Society, Peter Bailey, on your first visit to the Asia Pacific and Africa Collection Reading Rooms at the British Library to research your family history in British India.2009 (

Related articles

External links