The British Library at St Pancras, London is the home of the India Office Records, which are held in the Asia, Pacific & Africa Collection (APAC) and viewable in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room.
The British Library is one of the UK Institutions that receives a copy of every publication distributed to the UK or Republic of Ireland and these publications are available to registered readers in the Library’s Reading Rooms. However, it should be noted that not all material is held at its London site and some titles may have to be ordered in advance. For more information see Legal Deposit in the British Library.
- Previous FIBIS chairman, Peter Bailey, has created an informative slide show Advice For Your First Visit to the APAC Reading Rooms
- Baxter's guide: Biographical sources in the India Office Records by Ian A Baxter.
- FIBIS, in association with the British Library, have published the Third Edition of this invaluable guide to the India Office Records (held at the British Library). This is the bible for all who are researching ancestors in British India and South Asia. Available from the [ FIBIS Shop]
- Getting started with the India Office Records. 2009 (FIBIS fact files; 2)
- Planning your first visit to the British Library? This very practical booklet contains two articles which will reduce stress and possible frustration when beginning research using the India Office Records at the British Library in London. Lawrie Butler was the former FIBIS Research Officer and his helpfully illustrated article "Hints on research in the India Office Records at the British Library Asian and African Studies reading room" carefully sets out what can be accomplished before visiting the library, how to gain admission to the library, and what to do once you enter the reading room in order to obtain maximum results. Elaine MacGregor's article "First visits to the OIOC by a 'newbie'" is a useful case study recounting her experience of using the reading room. Both articles were previously published in the FIBIS Journal. Available from the FIBIS Shop
- "Discovering biographical sources in the British Library Manuscripts" by Dorota Walker FIBIS Journal Number 27 (Spring 2012), pages 37-43 For details of how to access this article see FIBIS Journals. A pdf file of the Guide may be downloaded, refer External links below.
- FIBIS can provide a research service and/or supply/copy documents to FIBIS members unable to visit the British Library. The documents for which FIBIS is able to supply a copy of the record, are those records available on British Library microfilm, or which it is permitted to photocopy. For other documents, FIBIS is only able to supply a transcription, refer below. (This is especially useful for obtaining further information where a reference has been found on the FIBIS website). For further information about this service email the research co-ordinator on [email protected]
Online databases available in the Library's Reading Rooms
The British Library’s Reading Rooms provide computer access to many websites which contain online newspapers, journals, directories etc, published both in India and Britain which may be a source of informative genealogical information.
The British Library’s Find Electronic Resources indicates that the "Times of India—1838-2001", Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO), Eighteenth Century Journals, 19th Century Periodicals , 17th and 18th Century Burney Collection, the British Newspaper Archive and the Times Digital Archive are some of the databases which may be viewed online in the Library Reading Rooms. Refer Subscription websites-online newspapers, journals and directories for more details of these databases.
Visiting the British Library
- You will need a Reader Pass to enter the British Library Reading Rooms - which is where research is conducted. Read How to Register for a Reader Pass
- Read about location, opening times, and many aspects covered in Reader FAQ’s in this link.
- You may use compact cameras, tablets and mobile phones to photograph some categories of material but not where preservation or other restrictions apply, see Can I take photographs of British Library material myself?. There are no camera stands.
- There is a document limit for the day. Check British Library documentation for current limits, see How to order items.
Free Training Sessions in using India Office resources
Every month the APAC team offer a free 75 minute introduction to their records. This is aimed at the family historian. For further details, including upcoming dates, see the British Library website at Free discovery and 1-2-1 sessions.
Obtaining copies of records
Certified copies of ecclesiastical records, with the seal of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, acceptable for official purposes, can be ordered from the British Library -current cost (2021, January) is £18 each, with an additional Search fee, if applicable. These contain details from the ecclesiastical registers held in the British Library which 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 certified copies are transcriptions with data extracted from the ecclesiastical records.
Because of the possibility of error with any transcription, for family history purposes copies of the microfilmed register pages are preferable. Copies can be obtained at no cost by using the microfilm digital copying machines in the reading room which scan to email or memory stick. Hard copies can be obtained cheaply from the microfilm copiers - also in the reading room. Note that sometimes the name of the church may be on a different page to the record you require. The records for a church may extend over several pages and the name of the church usually appears either at the beginning, or possibly at the end of these records, included in the words of certification by the chaplain/minister/priest for that church.
Search the India Office records for Baptisms Marriages and Burials. British Library link.
A great many of these images are now also available on the pay site Findmypast, which would be the most common option used by those who cannot personally visit the British Library. However for ecclesiastical records, where images are not available on Findmypast due to privacy considerations, unless you have a full record reference from elsewhere, including page (or folio) number, it is not possible to order a non-certified image in terms of Ordering images (Pricing) as the Findmypast transcript only provides a partial record reference as it does not include the page (folio) number. If ordering an image online, include IOR as part of the catalogue description. (Check what is available in the indexed FamilySearch records, however generally page (or folio) number is not included.)
- Note above paragraph that the cheaper register copies will be preferable for family history purposes.
- Note some documents cannot be photographed digitally - eg some european manuscripts - and you would need to use the Library's imaging services to obtain copies.
- Note some India Office records from the British Library, including most of the ecclesiastical records, are available for free on FamilySearch digitised microfilms - refer FamilySearch for links to the FamilySearch Library catalogue and FamilySearch Centres for information about viewing digitised microfilms at these Centres, which are generally also available at FamilySearch Affiliate Libraries. However, for some researchers, FamilySearch Centres and/or Affiliate Libraries may not be geographically convenient, or the open hours may be restricted. Most ecclesiastical records are also available as indexed records on FamilySearch.
The British Library can be contacted via the means below. The Library will provide a limited research service and can supply copies of records and documents, particularly, if you have the reference of an item you would like and cannot visit - charges apply. For baptisms, marriages and burials, consider whether you need a certified copy, refer above, as for genealogical purposes, a photocopy of the record may be preferable. APAC also hold a list of professional researchers familiar with the collections. Please, however, note that, as mentioned above, FIBIS can provide research assistance and copies of documents for FIBIS members unable to visit the Library. As stated above, some India Office records from the British Library, including all the ecclesiastical records, are available for free at FamilySearch Centres, and generally also at FamilySearch Affiliate Libraries.
Asian and African Studies enquiries The British Library 96 Euston Road London NW1 2DB United Kingdom Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7873 Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7641 E-mail: [email protected]. Note however that you will automatically receive an online form to complete, so it is more efficient to compete this initially, as quoted in the link "Resources for the study of South Asia past and present" below: Contact the Asian & African Studies Reference Team.
Some books from the British Library's collection have been digitised. To locate these books search the British Library's main catalogue, refer below, and select Access options: Online (located on the left hand side of the webpage), For resulting book titles, click on "I want this". For books which have been digitised, one or more of the following sources will be available, and may then be selected
- British Library's pdf download, said to be "good for reading large amounts of text". Now mainly or totally withdrawn.
- British Library's itemVIEWER, said to be "good for images". Note 1. it is possible to rotate pages, if required. Note 2. it is not possible to navigate from page to page using the 'Full Screen' viewing option.This is only possible from the default page, which is a disadvantage when reading text. Check whether there is an alternative format available elsewhere e.g. Archive.org. Now mainly withdrawn, but some files remain in this format. A difficult format to read online.
- British Library's Digital item, with a different format to itemViewer. For a larger book image, close the 'Contents' and 'More information' sections. More recent digital files appear to be in this third format, but currently there still appear to be earlier digitised files using the previous formats. An example is
- Jottings and Recollections of a Bengal “Qui hye!” by Louis Emanuel 
- You can download the entire book file, but depending on your internet connection this could be somewhat slow, but it is now possible (after a programming bug has been fixed). To read the book online there is a "Full screen" option, located at the bottom right hand corner of the webpage.
- Google Books
- These books may also be located through Google Books's usual search. It is not possible however, to specifically locate books from the British Library through the Google Books search.
There are also digitised manuscripts available which may be located through Digitised Manuscripts Search, refer below. Some British Library India Office Records (books and files) are also available online through other sources such as the Qatar Digital Library.
- British Library including Search the Main Catalogue and Search our Catalogue Archives and Manuscripts, the latter link including Visual Arts items and catalogue details for photographs. To search for online photographs, select the link for Search the Main Catalogue, then select "Our website", then enter your search details.
- Online Gallery Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections. Searchable prints, drawings photographs and maps which may be viewed online. Part of the Online Gallery. The Search defaults to the "Our website" section of Search the Main Catalogue, refer above.
- Some British Library online images are only available as images to buy at British Library Images Online. Some free downloads are also available on this website.
- Digitised Manuscripts Search
- Collection guides: Digitised printed books (18th-19th century) British Library
- Collection guides: UK Web Archive British Library
- Resources for the study of South Asia past and present British library website, including contact the Asian & African Studies Reference Team.
- Help for researchers Home>Find help by region>Asia, now an archived webpage.
- India Office Records and Private Papers: family history British Library website
- Help for researchers>India Office Records: Family History>Occupations, now an archived webpage.
- "A guide to materials relating to India at the British Library Western Manuscripts Collections" by Dorota Walker, 2011. British Library webpage, now archived. A past FIBIS Blog advised:
- The main guide is in chronological order. Use the comprehensive indexes to locate material:
- Name index – begins on p723 of the document (also numbered Index page 1)
- Place index – p846 (p124 of the index section)
- Subject index – p893 (p171)
- Explore The British Library: How do I search for..? 2016 British Library page, now archived.
- Copac Search, a search of over 70 UK and Irish academic national & specialist library catalogues, includes the British Library catalogue. Includes a keyword search. Copac also includes the British Library Register of Preservation Surrogates. Some India related items, stated to be available at the British Library were noted in the BLRPS e.g. this Sanawur : Lawrence Royal Military School entry
Historical books online
- A Guide to the India Office Records, 1600-1858 by William Foster 1919. Archive.org