I get requests to assist people in their ancestral searches. I watched the zoom presentation last Sunday evening January 3 on finding ancestors in India. I am impressed by the number of participants who wish to find ancestors in India or expressed an interests to trace their roots or to understand the process. We should try to help each find our ancestors. Not everyone can afford the costs. And so most descendants of indentureds show little or no interest to finding ancestors. They see no gain in tracing roots. But one should have an idea of where one comes from and who are our ancestors.
I believe, as Dr Satish Rai had suggested in an exchange, that we need to form some kind of an organization with linkage with the Indian Embassies in countries where girmityas are found and the national government of India as well with state governments of UP, Bihar, MP, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh – the purpose would be to provide support for those who wish to trace their roots in India. Several of were successful in tracing roots. We can help provide guidance to others and encourage others to help trace their roots. Perhaps it can be called “Indians Tracing Roots”.The various governments in India would be happy to be part of any activity that would bring tourists to their state. This organization can also help those who can’t afford to find roots but desire to do so.
As Dr. Satish Rai had pointed out in a memo to me, it is very difficult to get connected to our roots in India. It took me several years and visits to India and I was not able to find all of my roots. My mother’s maternal and paternal grandparents (her nanna and nanni as well as her aja and aji) came from India. My father’s maternal and paternal grandparents also came from India. That would be eight lines of ancestors. There are about thirteen million descendants of girmits spread out globally – that is a potential for a lot of tourism to India. Each one of us has eight linkages to Bharatdesh. So that would be a lot of potential tourists to India.
I obtained most of the below from Dr. Satish Rai:
You must have an Emigration Pass. On the pass, are information of the following: Girmityas Name, His Father’s Name or the Ship name, date left India, etc. that connects the indentured to India. In order to obtain the pass number and then copy of the girmit pass, you need the name of the immigrant and when he or she came. Old birth certificates of individuals born during colonial times would have the indentured name and ship that brought him to the colony.The pass also has names of other relatives. One can still trace the girmit number and get the pass if one does not have these information… but the process is longer. You can get the pass through birth certificates going back to oldest child born in Guyana or Trinidad, or Fiji or Mauritius, or elsewhere. I helped several people to get their Emigration Passes in Guyana. The staff there is not very cooperative. In fact, under the coalition, it was extremely difficult to get access to Emigration Passes – the staff was very uncooperative.
Once you have copy of the pass then the next step is to find the District, Thana (Police station) and the village of the girmitya. Today this can be done via google search…but due to wrong spelling, difficulties in reading the writings, multiple thana and village names or changes that have occurred since 1828…the start of the girmit pratha, and such like, it sometimes becomes difficult to trace the thana and the village through google. There may be several villages with same name; so one has to be careful to find the right village.
Once the thana and the village has been established, one then has to establish whether the families or the relatives of the girmitya (s) do actually live there. Most times, families don’t wish to talk fearful they would lose land or property. They ear the ancestors in the diaspora are returning to claim property.In some cases, the relatives of the girmityas try to conduct these searches themselves. A few are successful but many fail in their attempts for various reasons. (too many to document). It is better to send someone in India to do the search. Time is saved. It costs some money, but the searcher has a better idea of how to find a relative. There are some benefits for the relatives. Cost of this service is relatively less as the cost involves travel and accommodation cost (for 1-2 days) in India only. This also takes away the hassle of travelling to unknown places and dealing with unfamiliar people…this can be challenging for many in India.
Once the families or relatives are located or found in the villages, the relatives can now make plans to travel to India and visit the relatives at their leisure. Almost all girmits came from the villages; very few were from the urban areas. And almost all of them were very poor. The reception of those who went to meet relatives is extremely warm and hospitable. It is very emotional — an unforgettable experience. It is exactly what you see in Bollywood movies or documentaries on tracing roots.