*   South Asian Perspectives on UK Records
Search Tracing Your Roots  *

* Introduction
* Caribbean
* Irish
* Jewish
* South Asian
*Tracing South Asian Roots
*Perspectives on UK Records
*Military Service Records
*Migration Records
*Records in Other Countries
*Pulling It All Together


In this section * * * * *
Why They Came*   The Records of Lascars* Records of Indian Students*   
Records of South Asians in Britain*   Pedlars' Certificates* Strangers Home*   
Births, Marriages and Deaths*   mixed marriages*   
Census 1841 - 1901*    
Wills Before 1858*    
Wills After 1858*    
Funds in Court*    
Electoral Registers*    
Asian Newspapers*    
Police Records*    
Records in Scotland*    
Other Sources*    

For basic records of significant life events of South Asians who have settled in Britain the starting point is the same as for all people in the country: records of births, deaths and marriages, *censuses and wills are mainstay of family history reseach, and there are many other sources that can be examined. It also helps to know something about the background, career path and destination of the particular South Asian immigrant.

*Why They Came*top of page

Lascar seamen splicing a new 7 inch rope on the quay a the Royal Albert Dock.
Lascar seamen splicing rope on the quay at the Royal Albert Dock in London 1936.
* Moving Here catalogue reference (MOL) DK2787NG
The Asian presence in Britain goes a long way back and forms a prelude to the larger-scale post-independence migration of Asians to Britain.

The colonial link resulted in many South Asians visiting Britain for different purposes:

  • British Official families returning from India brought over native servants and Ayahs (nannies or ladies' maids).
  • The East India Company and British Merchant Marine employed lascars (Indian seamen) on their ships and a significant number settled in Britain permanently. The incidence of Indian seamen deserting ships increased during the Second World War, but many obtained employment in shore industries, principally in the Midlands. In 1943 there were 800 Indians established in Coventry and perhaps as many as 1,000 in Birmingham. Read more about The Records of Lascars*.
  • Elsewhere many South Asians sought out London, the capital city of the Commonwealth and Empire.
  • From the mid-19th century, Indian students began a slow, but increasing, presence in Britain. Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh were popular destinations for early students. Some South Asians came on scholarship to study law or medicine or to specialise in subjects taught at technical and research institutes. Others took the examinations for entry into the Indian Civil Service because this examination could only be taken in London. Some Indian students settled in Britain after qualifying to practise as doctors, lawyers or in other professions. Read more about the Records of Indian Students*.
  • A number of Indian business firms opened branches in England.
  • Indian politicians came to London, the centre of power, to argue the cause of Indian freedom.
  • Indian princes and maharajahs visited England, not only as guests of the Crown on formal occasions, such as coronations, but also to pay their respects to the monarch or for pleasure.
  • Some Indians had ended up in East Africa from *indentured labour arrangements in the 19th century. A number of them eventually made their way to Britain.

*Records of South Asians in Britain*top of page

Those South Asians who stayed in Britain had to follow the rules and regulations created by the Central Courts of Law and the policies of the various British governmental departments. Most South Asian immigrants were law-abiding citizens, and assimilated into the British way of life. Their names and details have been recorded in various records held at the National Archives, such as:

Sailors from all around the world in the Stranger's Home, West India Dock Road, c.1856
Sailors from all around the world in the Stranger's Home, West India Dock Road, London in the 1800s.
* Moving Here catalogue reference (MOL) DK3522NG
  • Registration of births, deaths and marriages
  • Census records
  • Wills
  • The Home Office naturalization papers
  • Board of Trade incoming and outgoing passenger lists
  • Lascar seamen's service records (see also related records such as Pedlars' Certificates*, and records of the Strangers Home*)
  • Metropolitan police correspondence
  • Armed Forces Personnel Records
  • Ministry of Labour Commonwealth immigrants: case files of applications for employment vouchers from Immigration Appellate Authorities Civil Service commission records
  • Criminal court records
  • Colonial and dominion records
These are the vital collections for tracing Asian ancestors in this country.

Apart from these records, the County Record Offices also hold parish registers for births, marriages and deaths before 1837, *quarter session court records, local newspapers, local business trade directories, wills approved in the local courts, and many other local records.

*Births, Marriages and Deaths*top of page

South Asians who arrived and settled in the United Kingdom have registered their births, marriages and deaths in the normal way like any other British citizens. Many early settlers were baptised into the Christian faith by missionaries, and relevant baptism records may be found in copies of parish registers held in the relevant local County Record Offices.

When the Asian religious places of worship were established, the marriages were first conducted in a traditional religious way in the Mosques, Sikh and Hindu temples, and later registered in the civil records as well.

Particularly in early years, when there were few Asian women in Britain, many Asian men started relationships with white women, and some couples entered mixed marriages* and had children.
For more information on births, marriages and death records in England link to the general tracing your roots section.

*Census 1841 - 1901*top of page

Any Asians who were in England and Wales for one of the ten-yearly censuses will have been recorded. The census records from 1841 to 1901 are open for consultation.

From 1851 onwards, the *enumerator was required to record the birthplace of each individual; however, the records usually only noted the country of birth, not the village or town. Occasionally some of them give full details, but it is rare.

Those Asians who married white women or sought to integrate with the locals sometimes adopted easily anglicised first names but kept their original surnames. For example, in the 1881 census, many Sikhs kept their surname Singh.

1901 Census return that shows 5 lascar patients in a hospital
This example from the 1901 Census shows an entry of five lascars (Indian seamen) who were patients in a hospital at 286 Lower Achles Lane, Walton on Hill, Liverpool. It is interesting to note that one of the lascars, Mahomed Ullah, has his age entered as 10 years old.
* Moving Here catalogue reference (PRO) RG 13/3455
For more information about census records link to roots general family history section.

*Wills Before 1858*top of page

Early Asian settlers in Britain came from varied social backgrounds. Indian students who studied, worked and lived in this country were often well off; some were very rich and a few were working class. Not everyone left a will. If a will was left, which was *proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury before 1858, it is held at the National Archives in record series (PRO)PROB11.

*Wills After 1858*top of page

Since 1858 the Government has taken the responsibility for the administration of wills and grant probates. These are held at:

The Principal Registry of the Family Division
Probate Search Room
First Avenue House
42-49 High Holborn
London WC1V 6NP

For more information on wills after 1858 link to roots general family history section.

*Funds in Court*top of page

Many wealthy Asians and descendants of Indian royal families bought stocks and shares of British companies, and some of the stocks were never claimed. It is possible that such funds may have ended up in:

The Money (Funds) in Court of the Chancery/Family Section
Courts Funds Division
22 Kingsway
London WC2B 6LE

Such cases, however, are very rare. For further information please consult the National Archives information leaflet on *money (funds) in court.

*Electoral Registers*top of page

Legally immigrated Asians were allowed to vote in this country. It is worth checking the relevant electoral registers if you know where your ancestor lived. The registers are held at the local and country records offices or libraries, as well as the British Library.

*Workhouses*top of page

The Dispensary at the Seamen's Hospital, Wapping, London in 1881.
The Dispensary at the Seamen's Hospital, Wapping, London in 1881.
* Moving Here catalogue reference (MOL) DK3301NG
Asian seamen and servants who were destitute in the seaport towns were sent to workhouses. Relevant records are usually held at the *County Record Office (CRO) or local reference libraries. If someone died at the workhouse, it was abbreviated in the death certificate as 'WH'.

*Asian Newspapers*top of page

Compositors at work in the composing room of the Times of India newspaper selecting type to make up the pages, 1898.
Compositors at work in the composing room of the Times of India newspaper selecting type to make up the pages, 1898.
* Moving Here catalogue reference (BL) Photo 643/(14)
Different newspapers and magazines published by the various Asian communities or associations, as well as newsletters, annual reports published by the mosques, temples, *gurdwaras and churches for their communities, can give invaluable sources of information about Asian people and events.

These may be held at the CROs or local reference libraries or by themselves. It is worth checking the local and national newspapers for obituary notices as they can contain interesting details.

*Police Records*top of page

The vast majority of Asians have been law-abiding citizens. However, there are some petty criminal records in existence for those who had provided false information to the local police in order to obtain a pedlar's certificate or for those 'middlemen' who arranged for immigrants to be brought to this country, giving false information to the local police or to the Home Office.

Some of the cases have been heard in the courts of Quarter Session and Assizes. The Quarter Sessions and the local police force records are held at the appropriate County Record Offices. The National Archives holds the Central Criminal Court Depositions in series (PRO) CRIM 1, which includes some criminal cases of Asians.

Proceeding of a General Court Martial, 1943
Proceeding of a General Court Martial, 1943.
* Moving Here catalogue reference (PRO) WO 71/769

*Records in Scotland*top of page

Many South Asian students studied in Scottish and Welsh universities, and *lascar seamen lived and settled in Scotland. The births, marriages and deaths in Scotland from 1 January 1855, along with the many parish registers ( c.1700-1855), are held by the General Register Office (Scotland). Their indexes can be searched on the web at *www.origins.net for a small charge.

The Scottish censuses for 1891 and 1901 are also available online at the same website, *www.origins.net. For Scottish family history, please refer to Tracing your Ancestors in the PRO by Amanda Bevan.

*Other Sources*top of page

You will find further UK sources listed in the sections for:

Creators: Abi Husainy

*     previousTracing South Asian Roots Military Service Recordsnext