Church records

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There was some registration of Births and Deaths in British India, commencing in 1864 in Calcutta, but generally it was voluntary, and records which exist are difficult to access. The next best thing for a genealogist is to use Church Records.

An estimated 70% of all baptism, marriage and burial records have survived today in the India Office Records, and they are all indexed and available on microfilm, and many are now available online, see below.

Records of baptisms, marriages and burials are available 1698-1968. The records are housed in the British Library in London.

In 1930 the Anglican Church in India separated from the Church of England and became the autonomous Church of India, Burma and Ceylon, still within the Anglican Communion. From this time onwards fewer ecclesiastical records were sent to England, and the number continued to decline over time. By the 1940s there were relatively very few records sent to England.

Certificate of an 1885 marriage

As a general rule, there appears to be a better coverage of Anglican records compared to Roman Catholic and other church records. Records for some geographical/ occupational groups such as Railway Colonies appear to be under represented, or indeed non existent, even if the Railway Colonies were located in British India.

Records at the British Library


The ecclesiatical records in the India Office collection are transcriptions of registers from churches in India, sent to London for administrative purposes. As such, there are occasional transcription errors.

Note that the name of godparents are entered only occasionally on copies of baptisms in the Ecclesiastical Returns held at the British Library. This information is, however, generally available from the church registers in India.

Year of record may differ from year of event

The year a record was sent to England (which determines the Volume in which the record is located) may occasionally be later than the year in which the event took place, sometimes, for remote locations, by many years. Records a year or two late are more common. This fact may be of significance when locating a record in a microfilm, if you do not know full details.

Access at the British Library

Microfilmed copies of all the records are available for public inspection and indexes are on the open shelves of the Asian & African Studies Reading Room, broken down by Presidency, alphabetically and by year. Records are catalogued under the 'N' series (ie, the references for ecclesiastical records being with N), under the heading Ecclesiastical Returns which fully sets out the applicable years for each Volume number, for the three Presidencies, and other data sets.

The British Library page contains visiting tips and information.

Online records and transcriptions

  • The commercial website findmypast digitised the India Office Church records and they were released online on 29 January 2014. Note that some India Office Records will not be found in the findmypast database, (for technical or other reasons).
For privacy reasons be aware that currently (March 2021) a limited transcription only is available on findmypast with no digital images for baptisms after 1921, and for marriages after 1936. Currently there appear to be additional records added on an annual basis, although this has not been consistent in past years.
Images of records after these dates can be obtained from digitised FamilySearch microfilm, viewable, for non-LDS Church members, at a FamilySearch Centre for free. Currently (2021/03) these digitised microfilms are also available at FamilySearch Affiliate Libraries, but such access has varied in the past, so check availability at AFs, also noting some AFs which are libraries of Societies may charge a visitor fee for non members. See FamilySearch Centres for details. The other option is to visit the British Library, or request a copy of the record (for which a charge applies) from the British Library, which may be the preferred option if your nearest FamilySearch Centre or Affiliate Library is not geographically or otherwise convenient for you.
  • Many of the indexes have been previously transcribed by FIBIS Volunteers and are available in the FIBIS Search database under the heading Ecclesiastical Records.
  • Enhanced indexes from the church records at the British Library were added in April 2010 to the LDS FamilySearch website. These are free to search and view but examination of the full record will give further information. There are some records which are not available on findmypast.
    • The FamilySearch website also contains some databases which are browsable collections of images, which have not been indexed, which are of church registers in India and Ceylon. Currently (2016/11) these are
      • India, Madras Diocese Protestant Church Records, 1743-1990. Hints for browsing these records.[1]
      • India, Gujarat Diocese Protestant Church Records, 1854-2012
      • Sri Lanka, Colombo District Dutch Reformed Church Records 1677-1990

Geographic location

Most of the records relate to British India and in particular to the three Presidencies of Bengal, Madras and Bombay, whose boundaries varied over time.

Some Army (East India Company and Indian Army) cantonments were geographically located outside of British India, in areas in Princely States, leased by the Government in India. However, for record purposes these cantonments were considered to be part of British India and located in one of the Presidencies. The records from churches in these cantonments will generally be found in the Presidencies' records.

In contrast, railway colonies located in Princely States were not considered to be part of British India, even if the Railway was British owned, and records will not be found in the Presidency records. A possible source is the Indian States N/5 records mentioned below in Regional breakdown of ecclesiastical records, but many railway colony records are not included. The same applies to records from mining cities such as Kolar Gold Fields.

Even for British India, many railway colony records do not appear in the collection at the British Library, and must be sourced, if they still exist, from churches in India.

Anglican Records

Since the East India Company only officially accepted employees of Protestant faith, all early Ecclesiastical Records are Anglican. The India Office categorization of these records and their earliest dates are:

Bengal N/1 1713
Madras N/2 1698
Bombay N/3 1709

Roman Catholic Records

The Company initially legislated against the employment of Roman Catholics. However, such was the pressure to find recruits for its armies in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars in the late 18th Century, it was forced to repeal this legislation and to recruit Catholic soldiers from Ireland. The pastoral needs of these soldiers were generally met by the independent Catholic Missionaries, largely established by the Portuguese or the French.

Following Catholic emancipation in England and Wales (1829) Irish soldiers prevailed upon the presidency authorities to provide English-speaking Catholic chaplains and churches for their use. These were established beginning in the mid-1830s. Again, their BMD returns were made to the presidency ecclesiastical authorities. Initially, these returns were filed separately (N/x/RC series, where x=1 for Bengal, x=2 for Madras and x=3 for Bombay) but after a few years, they were amalgamated with the Anglican records.
N/1/RC 1842-1856, N/2/RC 1835-1854, N/3/RC 1842-1854. These records are available on FamilySearch microfilm, refer table below. It would be expected/assumed this series of records is included in the digitised N/1, N/2 and N/3 India Office Church records on the pay website Findmypast, refer above.

Missionary and Non-Conformist Church records, including the Church of Scotland

It may be noted that a number of independent missionary and non-conformist churches were requested to return their BMD records to the presidency authorities. The latter considered it necessary to record proof of relationships of its employees for official purposes such as rights to pension, etc. A number of priests refused to do this, largely on the grounds of time taken and of cost. Accordingly, many of their vital events are not recorded in the APAC today. Foremost among these are the records of the large numbers of Catholic soldiers who used the missionary churches during the thirty years or so before emancipation. To obtain details from these ‘missing’ records, it is necessary to visit the church where the ceremony was performed and to apply to see the original register.

With the passage of time, the BMD returns became increasingly included and therefore more likely to feature in the ‘N’ series of returns at the BL. As an example, baptismal records for January-March 1854 for St Andrew's Bombay were seen on findmypast[2]. Note, however, a number of marriages performed in the Church of Scotland feature in the Registrar marriages, as explained in the link.

Some Church of Scotland Bombay church records and records for St Andrew's Church of Scotland, Madras may be found in LDS Microfilms of Church registers in India, but the records for St Andrew's Church of Scotland in Calcutta have not been filmed and are only obtainable from the church, refer Calcutta-Churches and missions. St Andrew's Church in Calcutta also holds the Baptism and Marriage Registers and some other documents for Church of Scotland cantonment Churches throughout India, Ceylon, Burma and some Gulf stations.[3]. See Burma: Records: LDS (Mormon) for details of Presbyterian church magazine extracts reporting baptisms, marriages and deaths in Burma, and also Malaya, Sumatra, and Siam, (available either now, or in the next few years), on LDS digitised microfilm.

Other records

  • The FamilySearch website contains some databases which are browsable collections of images, which have not been indexed, which are of church registers in India and Ceylon, refer above.
  • See Cemeteries for details of monumental inscriptions in books, including books available online.
  • Bengal Past and Present: Journal of the Calcutta Historical Society, has lists of baptisms, marriages and burials based on the original church registers in Calcutta, up to 1800. They are probably mostly covered by the Ecclesiastical Returns in the British Library, however there may be some additional entries which never made it to England (e.g. the ship carrying the returns to England was lost).
Transcriptions from Registers of St John's, Calcutta by E W Madge as they appeared in Bengal Past and Present. Each listing contains many pages of biographical notes. Articles are available online, on, most being mirrors of files originally from Digital Library of India. Note: Records for Baptisms 1767-1777 have been transcribed and are available on the FIBIS database in the category Publications.
  • See Madras (City) for online details of Marriages at St Mary’s , Fort St George, and Marriages at Outstations 1680-1805.
  • Also see other Fibiwiki Location pages , including Cawnpore for online monumental inscriptions.

Regional breakdown of ecclesiastical records

Many of the following records are also available on the pay website Findmypast.

(Baptisms, Marriages and Burials)
Catalogue Section Presidency or Region Range of Volumes Range of Years LDS Film Range* (I = Index)
N/1 Bengal 1 – 641
For more details see
LDS Microfilms for Bengal Presidency Church Records
1713 – 1948 498954 - 535699.
. . RC/1-5 1842 – 1856 FamilySearch Library catalogue
N/2 Madras 1 – 176
For more details see
LDS Microfilms for Madras Presidency Church Records
1698 – 1948 463296 - 527486
. . RC/1-8 1835 – 1854 530008 - 530011
. Cochin 177 1751 – 1804 .
N/3 Bombay 1 – 178
For more details see
LDS Microfilms for Bombay Presidency Church Records
1709 – 1948 462965 - 523914
. . RC/1-5 1842 – 1854 FamilySearch Library catalogue
N/4 India and Pakistan 1 – 8 1949 – 1968 527415 - 527421
N/5 Indian States 1 – 2 1890 – 1946 498603 (I) & 527422-3
N/6 St. Helena 1 – 3 1767 – 1835 498603 (I) & 498605
N/7 Fort Marlborough, Bencoolen 1 1759 – 1825 498603 (I) & 498606
N/8 Penang (Prince of Wales Island) 1 1799 – 1829 498603 (I) & 498606
N/9 Macao & Whampoa(Canton) 1 1820 – 1834 498603 (I) & 498606
N/10 Burma 1 – 7 1937 – 1957 527436 (I) & 534495
N/11 Registry Office Marriages 1 – 11 1852 – 1911 Not Filmed
N/12 Kuwait Political Agency 1 – 16 1937 – 1961 Not Filmed
N/13 Aden 1 – 21 1840 – 1969 Believed unfilmed
N/14 Register Lists .
. (Registration Act 1886) .
. . 1 Bengal
. . 2 Bombay
. . 3 Madras, Assam, Burma, Central Provinces and Punjab

* or Film Numbers to insert into the FamilySearch Catalogue to yield full range. Note: FamilySearch tend to classify the locations of these ecclesiastical events according to the present day Indian States, which the researcher will have to relate to the provinces of the former British Presidencies.

Other sources


Some church registers in India have not survived due to climate conditions such as flooding, or may have been eaten by insects. For those registers which survive, some churches retain their original registers, while some registers have been centralised in Diocesan offices. As a general rule, many churches and church organisations do not answer emails or letters, due either to a lack of staff, a lack of interest, potential problems with money transfer, or other reasons. Telephone contact perhaps may be more successful. There are exceptions, generally when the minister of a church has an interest in historical records. Most people who have obtained records from India have personally visited and have generally made a (generous) donation to a church or organisation.

Professional genealogical researchers appear not to exist in India and this may be related to the fact that churches are reported willing to supply church records only to family members, not to unrelated researchers.[4]

  • Churches in South India, a list of postal addresses and phone numbers of all bishops of CSI dioceses in India, correct in 1993 together with some current website details.
Update December 2016: BDM records for CSI are now kept at CSI Diocesan Office, 226 Cathedral Road, Chennai 600 086.[5]
  • Churches in North India, a list of the postal addresses and phone numbers of all bishops of CNI dioceses in India, correct in 1993, together with some current website details.
  • Catholic Churches in Madras, a list of Roman Catholic churches in Madras, with their date of building and approximate location. This list was kindly transcribed by Peter Bailey.
  • Calcutta, a reference to a listing of church records in Calcutta to 1800.

Bishops' Transcripts

In India, as in England, parish churches, both Church of England and Roman Catholic, were obliged to send an annual copy of baptisms, marriages and burials to their Diocesan offices. These are known in the UK and elsewhere as "Bishop's Transcripts" ( BTs, also known as Parish Register Transcripts)

"As long as the Diocesan records have not been destroyed, you will always find a copy there from every single parish church within that diocese. If you don’t get a result from the parish (where for instance, as in Burma, many have been destroyed) then write to the Bishop's secretary".[6]

External links

Roman Catholic

Historic books online


  1. Cheryl. Baptism records - Madras Presidency Rootsweb India Mailing List 11 November 2016, archived.
  2. Including that for Catherine Muirhead Jackson
  3. Previous Home page and Archive St. Andrew's Church. Retrieved 28 October 2014
  4. Some years ago (c 2010-2012) a researcher asked the company YourManInIndia whose services include Document Procurement (as part of their Concierge Services) whether it could obtain church records, but was advised churches would not supply records to unrelated persons/companies.
  5. Brook, Michael. BDM records for CSI Rootsweb India Message Board 14 December 2016. Retrieved 9 February 2019.
  6. Steevens, Mark. Roman Catholic Registers in India (and elsewhere) Rootsweb India Mailing List 30 December 2009, archived.