These pages provide guidance to family historians on how to use sources from the India Office Records such as occupational descriptions or types of documents (wills, pensions or ecclesiastical records for example).
These 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 became a regular feature of the British administration in India. The returns relate almost entirely to European and Eurasian Christians; few local converts are included.
Please note that the Ecclesiastical Returns are not available online; however, we offer a remote search service for enquirers who are unable to visit our Reading Room.
Applications for search or certified copies of ecclesiastical records (PDF file)
An example of a baptism record. © The British Library Board.
These Ecclesiastical Returns generally contain the following types of information:
Date of birth, date and place of baptism, child's name, parents' names, father's occupation and residence, name of officiating priest, and sometimes godparents' names.
Registration of births was not compulsory and very few are entered in the records. Registrations do not generally appear until the 1920s. Entries show date and place of birth, child's name, parents' names and their nationality and religion, father's occupation, date of registration.
An example of a marriage record from Bengal, 1894. IOR:N/1/236. © The British Library Board.
Names of bride and groom, their ages (sometimes the words "full age" appear, meaning over 21), places of residence, fathers' names (from c1850 onwards), witnesses' names, name of officiating priest.
These sometimes show the nationality of the bride and groom in addition to their names, ages, names of fathers and witnesses.
Napoleon's death record in the Burial Register of St Helena, 9 May 1821. IOR:N/6/2, f.211. © The British Library Board.
Name of deceased, date of death, age, occupation, cause of death (from c1850 onwards), date and place of burial, officiating minister, sometimes the rite under which burial was performed.
Series relating to geographical areas
Before searching the Baptism, Marriage and Burial records of your ancestor, it is important to know the Presidency of India in which your ancestor and family lived and worked. See the Map of India for 1937 for further information. If your ancestor lived or worked in areas other than India or Burma, it is necessary to search series outside the three Presidencies of India. Please refer to the table below for the records you may require. The Ecclesiastical Returns are not complete and it is not possible to trace entries for all events. In the event of an unsuccessful search, it is sometimes possible to obtain copy entries by writing to the church where the ceremony took place or to the Registrar General of the area in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Burma.
India and Burma
|Roman Catholic returns for each Presidency|
|Registrar marriages in India and Burma 1852-1911||N/11|
|Post Independence India and Pakistan||N/4|
|Indian States 1890-1947||N/5|
|Burma 1937 -||N/10|
|St Helena 1767-1835||N/6|
|Fort Marlborough (Benkulen, Sumatra) 1759-1825||N/7|
|Prince of Wales Island (Penang)|
Malacca and Singapore 1799-1829
(The above continued in Bengal returns 1830-1868; for Malacca marriages 1820-1824 see also R/9/39/3)
|Macao and Whampoa (Canton) 1820-1833||N/9|
The indexes to the Ecclesiastical Returns (Records class Z/N) are shelved in the British Library Asia & African Studies Reading Room. For returns from areas other than India and Burma, please see the India Office Family History Search. There are currently no indexes to the Kuwait returns. It is necessary to search through the actual registers (N/12/1-16). Microfilms of the original entries for all Indian series (except certain volumes of Registrar Marriages, and returns from Kuwait and Aden, not yet microfilmed) may be viewed in the Reading Room.
Census Information: Surname Index for the Returns of Europeans Residing in Bombay Presidency in 1851.