India Office Records and Private Papers: family history

Major William Palmer with his second wife and family
Johann Zoffany (1733-1810) Major William Palmer with his second wife, the Mughal princess Bibi Faiz Bakhsh on his right and her sister on his left. Three of his children and three female attendants complete the group. Oil on canvas. Originally published/produced in 1785. The painting has also been attributed to Francesco Renaldi.

The India Office Records contain a wealth of information about thousands of people who came into contact with the East India Company and the British administration in India c1600-1947

About the collection

The India Office Records comprise the archives of the East India Company (1600-1858), the Board of Control (1784-1858), the India Office (1858-1947) and the Burma Office (1937-1948). These 14 kilometres of official records, together with the India Office Private Papers (Mss Eur), contain details of employees of these organisations both overseas and in London. They are also a rich source of information about anyone who was baptised, married, visited, lived, worked, made a will, or died in South Asia and other areas connected to these organisations. Many of the well-known records for family history relate principally to British and European people, but we are increasingly uncovering sources of biographical information about Asians and developing our catalogues to enable them to be more easily found.

What is available online?

Find My Past’s British in India Collection contains over 2.4 million records of baptisms, marriages, burials, wills, pensions, military and civil career information.  

Some of the records may contain details for individuals who are still living, and therefore full-image views and transcriptions have been withheld so that only a basic index is available. In line with the Information Commissioner’s advice on data protection, this is set at:

  • 100 years for birth/baptism records
  • 84 years for marriage/career records

The full records may be consulted in person at the British Library.

The India Office Family History Search contains biographical details of people connected with the history of Britain and Asia c.1600-1947. Most of its records relate to British and European people, but we are adding information about Asians. It also includes records of London-based personnel such as the East India Company’s warehouse labourers.

Explore Archives and Manuscripts for catalogues of the India Office Records and Private Papers

The Imperial Gazetteer of India gives details of places you may find in the records.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

The India Office Records and Private Papers can be consulted in our Asian and African Studies Reading Room. Many useful reference works are on the open access shelves, including directories, the East India Register, India Office List and Indian Army List.

Find My Past’s British in India Collection includes baptisms, marriages and burials, employment and pension information, and wills. The indexes, images and transcriptions can be viewed free in the British Library’s Reading Rooms, but they cannot be downloaded. There is a charge for printing in the Reading Rooms.

What is available in other organisations?

The Families in British India Society has a very informative website.

The National Archives of India and other overseas record offices may hold relevant information.

Further information

For further reference works on this collection, see:

Ian A Baxter, Baxter’s Guide: biographical sources in the India Office Records (2004)
Emma Jolly, Tracing Your British Indian Ancestors. A guide for family historians (2012)
Peter Bailey, Researching ancestors in the East India Company armies (2006)
Peter Bailey, Researching ancestors in the Indian army, 1858-1947 (2014)
Rozina Visram, Asians in Britain: 400 years of history (2001)