The Indian Immigration Registers, or as they are popularly known, the Ships Lists, are a unique record of the coming to Natal from India of over 150 000 migrants between the years 1860 and 1911. During that period there were gaps of several years when migration, for various reasons, was interrupted.
|Detail from page of Indian Immigration Register|
Information given includes Registration (or Indenture) Number, Name, Father's name, Caste, Age, Height, Zillah (Province of origin in India), Thanna (nearest big town), Village and name of Employer to whom the migrant was to be indentured. Ship arrival date is given and also included are descriptions of physical marks - scars, tattoos etc. There may be additional subsequent events in the career of a particular migrant, such as death or his/her return to India.
A mammoth voluntary project to index these registers has resulted in the publication of a database searchable by name of migrant, as well as by Registration Number, displayed in columns corresponding with those found in the original lists (except for the column pertaining to physical marks which has been omitted). This database or index not only avoids excessive use of the original material, which is a plus in terms of preservation, but provides an accessible facility for research purposes – especially in the case of descendants wishing to trace migrant ancestors.
However, it should be emphasised that while the Migrants Index is a wonderful resource, it is not a magic wand. The information it offers requires interpretation; it demands some knowledge and effort on the part of the descendant/researcher, as well as the use of archival and other records in conjunction with the Index. Further discussion on this aspect in future posts.
To order a copy of the CD Indian Migrants to Natal: Ships Lists (1860-1911) GSSA CD011 ISBN 978-0-9869742-2-9 (Copyright J.B.Brain) contact the Genealogical Society of South Africa (GSSA): firstname.lastname@example.org
The Ships Lists are also available online at http://scnc.ukzn.ac.za/doc/SHIP/shipndx.html
In this version the lists are searchable by Registration Number.
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