I spent some time in India on a business trip last spring. I met with a number of business managers, software developers, taxi drivers, and one tour guide. I found almost no interest at all in genealogy among these people. I could not find anyone interested in tracing his or her roots. However, a new project aimed at Indians living abroad may change that, thanks to a new Internet database being planned with the help of the Indian government and scholars around the world.
"A lot of the work is in the planning and coordination stages. A global database station will be a huge task," Ashook Ramsaran, secretary general of New York-based Global Organization of People of Indian Origin, told participants at Overseas Indian Day, an annual meeting of Indians living abroad.
He said the project's organizers would seek permission from the United States and Britain to gain immigration information about their forefathers. It wasn't clear when the database would be operational.
"Once this is set up, someone in Tanzania or Belgium could access which city, town or plantation an ancestor who was an immigrant worker or indentured laborer worked in," he said.
About 25 million people of Indian origin have moved abroad since the early 19th century, working on plantations in former British colonies such as Mauritius and Trinidad or studying in the United States and Britain.
Saloni Deerpalsingh, director of the Mahatma Gandhi Institute in Mauritius, said 75,000 Indians have asked for help in tracking their ancestors.
Chandra Shekhar Tiwary, a researcher with the New Delhi-based genealogy group, Indi Root Foundation, has helped locate the ancestral homes of ten families from the United States, Britain, and Canada who initially migrated to places such as Surinam, Fiji, Trinidad, and Guyana.
"Land, revenue records, birth and death certificates of people's great-great-great grandfathers have helped," Tiwary said. "But if there are no documents, we rely on the memory of older people in the village or on songs of villagers that sometimes mention seven generations of one family."