Friday, April 24, 2009

Indian Princess Found!

Like many of us with British ancestors in India, I grew up listening to stories of a Burmese or Indian princess in our family. If I had a penny for every time someone has contacted me and told me the same story, then I would be a wealthy man!

The Indian princess story was simply a way that the 19th century British would pass off the reason for their dark or olive skin. It was always acceptable to them to have dark skin if their ancestor was of noble birth. No one ever claimed to be descended from an ordinary native woman. These liasons, (as we all know) between white European men and native Indian women led to the origins of the Anglo-Indian population.

As a child I loved that story but I never questioned it as I believed what I was told by my elders. I was even shown papers from a gt. uncle, showing a brief outline of my paternal family tree where it states that there was a Burmese princess in the family who married a Colonel Ogilvie in Madras.

It has taken me many years to work my way back in time and through countless records. I am the sort of person who needs to know these things, but I can't accept an ancestor in my family tree until I can prove that we are related "beyond reasonable doubt." One can never be 100% certain, but I always need to satisfy myself through cross-referencing records that there is a connection in my family tree before I will add them to my tree.

Seventeen years ago, I found the marriage record of my gt. gt. grandparents, James Rowland to Alice Ogilvie in 1850. It stated that Alice was an "Indo-Briton." Was this my Indian princess?

On their marriage record, it stated that when they married, James Rowland, Sub Conductor of Ordnance, Fort St. George, Madras was 46 and Alice Ogilvie was 21. I knew that there had been some "creative accounting" going on because I had already found James' birth record and it showed that he was born in Durham in 1800, making him 50 years old when he married Alice.

According to the marriage record, Alice, would have been born in 1829 and despite lengthy searches by myself, I was unable to find a birth record for an Alice Ogilvie who was born in 1829.

I then tried another approach and began looking for a record for her father, a "supposed" Colonel Henry Thomas Ogilvie. Again, this drew a blank. There were no soldiers (officers or ordinary) at Fort St. George during the period of her birth by that name.

In the late 1990s a contributor to the Indiaman Magazine did come across a Captain Henry Tristram Ogilvie who had the correct initials but I declined the information as I couldn't prove, "beyond reasonable doubt" that there was a family connection. And that is where I left that side of my family tree until 2009.

Recently, quite by chance I came across the birth of an Alice Ogilvie, whose father was..., wait for it, Captain Henry Tristram Ogilvie. That was too coincidental and satisfied me that here was information that proved "beyond reasonable doubt" that there was a family connection afterall.

However, Alice was actually born in 1835 making her 15 years of age when she married 50 year old James Rowland in 1850!
Her birth record also gave the name of her mother as being "Pappa" a native woman, not a Burmese or Indian princess. 17 years after first discovering the name of Alice Ogilvie, I have finally found her birth, and discovered the name of her mother too.

Do I feel disappointed that I don't have an Indian princess in my family tree? Not really, I knew, many years ago that this was a fabrication that had been passed down through the family to sanitise our family origins in accordance with 19th century British-India snobbery. I am thrilled to know "Pappa's" name as many records omit the name of the mother when they are native Indian women. On this occasion, I was lucky!

This new lead has sent me off searching for more information about Henry Tristram Ogilvie and his family. I have already obtained his army service record and discovered that he was born in Madras to a J.H.D. Ogilvie of the Madras Civil Service, and that he died on board the ship the "True Briton" in 1835 10 months after Alice was born. Her knowledge of him would have been nil and perhaps that is why his name appears on her marriage record as Henry Thomas Ogilvie.

Henry's father, J.H.D. Ogilvie, it appears from my research so far had a distinguished career in the Madras Civil Service and is mentioned in books relating to the Vellore Mutiny of 1806. He later became Master of the Madras Mint and was also a Judge.

My next line of research is to discover where he was born and to find his Pension record. He was in the Madras Civil Service from 1798, so it will be interesting to discover where he was from and where he trained as he is too early to have attended Haileybury College.

My thanks go out to the Indiaman Magazine research team at the India Office who found the majority of the records I requested. Thanks to them I have solved a 17 year old puzzle and resolved a 174 year old family myth!

If you need help locating records at the India Office or the National Archives in London, let The Indiaman Magazine find your family's records for you.

CLICK HERE: You can even receive a FREE GIFT from us worth £197.00 if you order 4 or more searches from us.

Best wishes
Paul Rowland
The Indiaman Magazine