Posts Tagged 'india'

a practical guide to genealogical research in kerala

Posted by on 16 Jul 2009 | Category: india, kerala, life

Keralites are often proud of their family ties and intricate family networks. This includes remembering the names and details of their grandfather’s second cousin’s wife’s brother’s  fourth son’s third daughter and all those in between.

Keralites are also proud of their ever expanding diaspora (both overseas and within India). However, the latter factor often counteracts the former one. While moving on to expanding horizons we often, naturally, forget about the family ties and the networks.

Genealogy as a window into ourselves

Genealogy (genea, “descent”; and logos, “knowledge”) is the study of ancestry and family history. More than just a peep into who are our cousins, relatives, and forefathers, a genealogy database is a window into ourselves as well. History is important because it tells the story of how today’s modern world has been shaped. Just like that, a history of your ancestors tells you how you and your immediate world has been shaped.

Why genealogy? Need and reason.

  1. Know ourselves through our roots, achieve a better sense of identity.
  2. Know our ancestors, the life and situations through which the present you and your relatives were “synthesized”.
  3. Know our present relatives, connect and communicate with them.
  4. Medical history. Lets you know if there is possibility of a particular medical situation passing through the lineage, and take proper precautions.
  5. Cultural history. It is like a micro census spanning several generations, and gives an idea of the society through ages and its cultural heritage.

These are some and there may be a lot more reasons for each person to pursue a research on their own family tree. Whatever may be the reason, such a work will eventually provide an emotional gratification to you. A lot of far-off relatives will surely come up to you with smiles on their faces and may remain your friends for ever. If you travel to a new place, there may be a distant relative or a friend of a relative who can host you. There may be a doctor relative who may be able to give valuable advice to you on specific cases or a lawyer who can advice you on legal matters, who knows!


Genealogy research is a long term, time consuming effort. Apart from that, several other aspects add to the difficulties.

  1. People die. There are lots of stories and information about your family which you will never get to know because the grandparent who could tell that is no more. I still dont know my grandfather’s sister’s name and nobody in my family knows that.
  2. Lack of interest. Some of your relatives may be extremely happy to help you and will give you a lot of information. However, some may be reserved in helping you out.
  3. Lack of records. In Kerala, proper and consistant recording of events started very late. Most (not all) of the palm leaf records available are from the years 1700 ~ 1950. Records on paper, are mostly from year 1850 onwards.

    These dates are “recent” for genealogical purposes. Also, it is not necessary that there are any records on your family even close to those years. Probably you may have written records which can date back to 30-50 years…!! Even the archaeology department at travancore started in 1891 and the kerala state archives department in 1962. Still, it is possible to search for the records and details among existing sources.


  1. Family history books (kudumba charithram). It is possible that one of the families of your 4 grand parents have a family history book or a collection of records. It is also possible that a family history book not directly connected to you is connected to some of your relatives.
  2. Church records usually contains register books and records with information on birth, christening, marriage, death, burial and headstones.
  3. Tomb stones. Be aware that cemeteries are often relocated and the current location of tombstones could be misleading.
  4. Internet. If you had an ancestor/relative who is popular, it is possible that you can extract a lot of information from the  internet. Currently there are a lot of communication networks which help in getting to know about your existing relatives. Church and congregation websites may give information about priests and nuns in your extended family.
  5. Newspaper clippings. Newspapers provide a valuable source in forms of obituaries, marriage announcements, other news, and even recipes by family members.
  6. Regional history books. There may be books regarding the history of your region. These books could give an insight into the environment, lifestyle,  culture and traditions during the period of your ancestors. They may also have one or two sentences to tell about your forefathers or your family.
  7. Your immediate family and your relatives “could be” the best of the sources!

Reliability matters. Always cross check the information you got with other sources. Also, always attach the source along with the information. This will tell you or others where you got the information from.

What to collect? Never too much.

  1. Basic info: names,dates, place and contact details like phone, email.

    Names include official names, nicknames, christened names, married names and all other alternate names. Kerala christian names! They appear in all styles and forms. A common practice among the kerala christians is to have the given name as first name and father’s name as last name. Though everyone has their own family names, many don’t use it with their names officially. My suggestion is to always use the family name as surname, in a genealogical record. Such a naming convention will provide easy identification of individuals. It also helps us to easily index and search the records. Married female kerala christians usually use husband’s name as last name. For genealogical purpose, it is always good to use maiden family name (family name at birth) as the primary name. Other family names, like those acquired through marriage, could be added as a secondary name.

    Dates should be collected for all important events for a person. Make sure that the dates collected are as accurate as possible. It was a common practice in the last 50 years or so, to provide a different birth date at school, than the original one. If it is an estimate, put a “circa” or “about” before the date. For eg: c.1873 or abt.1873.

    For places, make sure you always have the Post Office (P.O.), as it helps very much in communicating, indexing (eg: see place index in our family tree), or even for mapping purposes (eg: see google maps in our familytree).

  2. Extra info: occupation, achievements, skills.
  3. Photographs, videos, audios, letters (handwriting), newspaper clippings, obituaries, remembrance cards, wedding (and other) invitations.
  4. Memories and stories. These are often overlooked, but integral part of a family genealogy, making it fresh and alive.

All the above for all your relatives. Which relatives? Starting with you (1) -> your parents (2) -> grand parents (4) -> great grand parents (8) and so on. And all the siblings, spouses, children branching from these. You may be surprised to find inter-relations, relations to your old school mates or friends 🙂

How to collect and record?

  1. Go and collect on paper, forms.
  2. Phone.
  3. Postal. Send your forms along with self addressed envolopes, so that your relatives can fill and send it back to you.
  4. Email. Email communication is essential in gathering new information, validating, sending files and pictures.
  5. Online form. (eg: see a typical online form in our family tree).
  6. Software. It is always good to organize all the collected data in a recognizable and usable format. Several free and commercial softwares are available for this purpose. Personal Ancestral File (PAF) is one of the free softwares.

How to publish?

  1. Books, newsletters. Family history books and monthly/yearly newsletters. These take a lot of time and money in creating and publishing and sending it to family members. However, it is an effective way and the end user will benefit.
  2. Email newsletters. Easy and least expensive, but less reach?
  3. Internet. A genealogical site would provide wide access to the records from anywhere (eg: see our family tree). Family members can even register and add their details and branches of their family trees. Easy to keep updated. Usage will depend on the internet access abilities of the end user. However, this is gaining momentum with time. Several free and commercial software scripts are available for this purpose. phpgedview is one of the free softwares. In my family tree I am using the better, advanced, TNG software scripts.

Probably, a combination of all these would be the effective way to keep  the family tree together. An online database which can be easily updated and accessed, with less frequent and less heavy newsletters by email and snail mail.

Privacy, trade off.

  1. Birthdates. Some people (living) like their birthdates to be kept private for several reasons. Like they don’t want their age to be known or due to the reason that birthdates could help access to credit cards. At the same time, birth dates are an integral part of family genealogy. Depending upon the situation, the genealogist can provide access to only registered users, avoid the year of birth or keep it open.

    In our family tree we have kept it open as registration and logging in deters a lot of non-web savvy users. Many birthday celebrations, anniversaries, etc have been triggered as the dates are available. We also use the year of birth for some facilities/calculations/statistics on the website. Then, again, most of these dates are available in publically available media like books, other websites, etc (not all of course). Also, birthdates have been gathered by many agencies (govt and non-govt) that it is not so difficult to procure them if someone needs.

  2. Secrets. There may be family or personal secrets which people may like to keep private. We should respect these concerns.
  3. Divorces, 2nd marriages. These are information which are publicly announced and available. Recording such details are upto each person, and depending on the situations.


Most of the information given are from personal experiences and viewpoints. Though this article is on kerala christian genealogy, many of the points discussed here applies to other communities also. There is ever growing interest in genealogy in other communities (eg: I know that some namboothiri groups are active in it) and it may be helpful to collaborate as the kerala history and culture transcends religious barriers.

Adoption: The Answers (iv)

Posted by and on 06 Feb 2007 | Category: adoption in india

Back in Hyderabad, I decided to take a share of what the adoption agency here has to tell me about the procedures. Quite interstingly, Andhra Pradesh (AP) is the only state that has banned any adoption through Voluntary Coordinating Agency (VCA) following a scam in 1999. The process has been in turn taken over by the Women Development and Child Welfare Development Centre.

At the VCA, I met the assistant director and two social workers. But more than meeting the staff there, what was more heartening was that I saw two parents who had come to take over their adopted kids. One was a baby of 3-5 months and the other was a girl child of 3 years.

In the previous articles, we dealt with some basic questions to be pondered and answered before we think of adoption. In this article, we lay out a step-wise procedure for a normal adoption, as told to me by the social worker I met.

1. Parents come to enquire about the adoption process.

a. All adoption is based on first come- first serve basis.
b. A single male cannot adopt a child
c. A single female can adopt a male or female child. However, her parents should be supportive of her desicion. Her income should be atleast Rs 5000 per month and should own some property.

2. Once the parents let know if they want to adopt a male or female child, they are told what the waiting period is.

a. In general, the waiting period for a male child is 3-4 years and a female child is 1.5 years. This is based on the availability of the children.
b. Many parents settle to adopt a female child in order to aviod long waiting periods for a male child.
c. Last year (2006), almost 85 female children and only 5-6 male children had been adopted.
d. Their claim is that almost 95% parents come asking for female child adoption.

3. The parents are given information about the adoption procedure and given a list of documents to be submitted to list them in the process for adoption.

4. After around 3 months of the document submission, the staff conduct a home visit to the applicant’s home.

a. They make sure the home environment is fine.
b. They speak with family-members and neighbours to make sure that all are fine with the adoption process. Even if one person is not ready for it (parents, in-laws etc…), they can be termed as a home not advised for adoption.
c. Even the surroundings are checked for schools and basic amenities to help the healthy growth of the adopted child.

5. Once everything is fine with the home visit, the parents are listed for adoption and put under seniority process (i.e., first come- first serve).

6. When the child is available for the parents, a letter is sent out to the adopting parents.

a. Only 2-3 children are shown to the parents for them to choose.
b. These children are selected carefully , to match the adopting parent’s face, features, complexion etc… This is to avoid any social problems that may arise later.
c. The children are already medically examined for fitness. However, if the parents will, they can conduct any further checkups on their own at their own expense. The child can be rejected if any medical problem is found and the parents will be given to have a second preference.
d. Children who are 5-6 years of age have a developed psychology, so their consent is taken before they are handed over.

7. After the parents are handed over the child, the legalisation process starts.

a. They are shown to good lawyers who will file a case of adoption in the court.
b. The assistant director will go and testify the handling over of the child.
c. The orphanage has nothing to do with the religion of the parents who are adopting. Everything to do with the Christian Wards Act is dealt in the court as it is a legal matter.

8. At the Registeration office, the parents need to file the details of the child, for a certificate that will serve as a Birth Certificate in future.

The parents can give a new Date of Birth for the child based on an approximate age determined by the orphanage. Usually the parents choose dates with favourable star signs, day, month, etc…

9. Subsequent followup visits are made to make sure everything is going fine.

a. 5-6 year olds take a longer time to adapt, especially the boys. If they are given a lot of care and tenderness, they will adapt better to the new parents and environment.
b. Many kids are readily agreeable for adoption.

A peek over NRI adoption…
As stated before, after adoptions through VCA has been handed over to the  Women Development and Child Welfare Development centre in AP, a preference order has been laid down. It being:

  1. Indian Parents
  2. NRI Parents
  3. 1 Indian and 1 foreign parent
  4. Foreigners

Only children who have been continuosly rejected by the Indian parents residing in India will be put up for adoption by the others. They are very often children with disabilities. Right now there are 29 such children in AP for such adoption. Their names and details are in the internet.

Adoption: The Answers (iii)

Posted by and on 29 Aug 2006 | Category: adoption in india

It was time for me to be homebound. Leaving Bangalore was with mixed emotions and there was one thing I wanted to do- visit the orphanage once again, see the kids there and interact with them, and feel nice about what they are doing. I went back to Ashraya one friday afternoon. Reaching there an hour early, I was lucky to meet one of the founders of the place. We struck a good conversation and it was pretty informative for anyone who would be looking at adoption.

Mrs. Chacko was an elderly lady and I sat with her, talking. Here’ s the share….

  • Does the religion of a child or adopting parent form any basis or criteria of adoption?

No, a child has no religion when brought as an orphan. The child’s name might sound anything, but she/he can be adopted by parents of any religion and bring the child up according to their beliefs.

An interesting case she told me was that an abandoned  child named Parveen (muslim name)  was found by police who took her to a safe place where she was named Lakshmi (a hindu name). When she reached the orphanage for adoption, she was Parveen Lakshmi! Who knows if she would be sought to be adopted by Christian parents?

  • What is the Christian Wards and Guardian Act? How does it affect?

According to Mrs. Chacko, this act is not a great deal. It just states that a child adopted by hindu parents automatically becomes a natural inheritor of the parents’ property, thus making the need of writing a will in the name of the child uneccessary. In case of the parents being a non-hindu, the child is not a natural inheritor of the property as they are, by papers, mere guardians to the child. This makes the writing of a will of minimum Rs. 25000/- in the name of the adopted one important. In today’s world, this amount is just meagre. Before adoption, the adopting parents should collect the court order for adoption which will serve as the birth certificate of the child henceforth. This is enough to show that the adopted child is as normal as any other child of the parents’. However, this is taken up as a case in the court of law just to bring uniformity among the mass when it comes to adoption.

Just for information and with no offence to any religion, while christians are still fine with the present rule, the muslim community is pushing to make this rule of uniformity work. As illogical as it may seem, they have their own reason, it being that, they don’t want the muslim orphans to be adopted by parents of different religion and raised into other religious beliefs. So, the logic that I could find here, if any little, is that bringing this law of uniformity could help the muslim community to adopt more children (without the writing of a will initially) and that too of muslim birth, thus keeing the muslim population from being moved to other religions. This case is still running as the muslim minorities could not be dissapointed. 

Another piece of information from another source is that, as a guardian, the non-hindu ‘parents’  lose all legal rights over the child once she/he turns 18 years. This means that, technically, the non-hindu parents act more like a money provider for the child’s growth till she/ he is 18!!? Could that be the reason why this Act is beign challenged in the courts?

She also told me that a hindu parents can adopt only a girl child if they already have a boy and vice versa. It is different with non- hindus, who can adopt any number of girl child or boy child as they want to.

Our converstations continued into more personal lives of each other.Then, somewhere between the talks I dropped a question of adoption by foreign parents. She said that it is all fine, but the orphanage does not have direct contact with the couple, but through an agency located in that country. They  do the neccessary home visits and direct the couples to the orphanages with children on adoption.

  • Is there a rule difference for adoption by an Indan and an NRI?

No. The rules hold same. NRIs are more particular about the children they are adopting. Just that the home visits are conducted by the agencies in that country.

Through the conversation, she told me that Indan parents prefer adopting younger children or infants. Children of certain higher ages like 10-16 years are adopted by foreign nationals. Therefore, these children are taught English. More input was given to me by the teacher I met later.


I  was suddenly drifted into thoughts of how the children must be feeling about being adopted, being completely aware that they are not brought up by their own birth parents, but someone else, who, no one knows if they are doing it out of sheer sympathy or love.

  • What is the psychology of the children in the orphanage?

It all depends on how they are brought up. In the orphanage, they are amongst kinds of their own. When they move out to new homes, they are nurtured in a certain way, ways of their new parents. The parents have to treat the child as normal and equal to their own child (if they have). This means no favouritism, or no partiality in anyway. Be frank to the children about their adoption, but make sure to add that there is nothing wrong in it. Tell this to your own child too.

Often parents who adopt overdo their affection for the child. Psychologically, this is to make up for the lost years without a child or because they have to release their emotions for the possesion they got after years together. This, in turn, instead of helping the child could harm, causing mental and psychological imbalances and behavioural problems.

She informed of a baby girl who was adopted after the parents had a boy. The boy is now grown and is proud of the fact that his sister is adopted. He even goes around telling ( i would call it preaching…:D ) that if anyone needs a child, the best place to get is this orphanage!

Another case she told is of a boy being adopted who is proud of the fact that he is an adopted kid and many others like him who always say, “I am from this orphanage, I have this place to tell about, how ’bout you!?”

and then with the kids…

After a while, I thought I would break to see the kids and bidding adieu to Mrs. Chacko and a picture later, I walked myslef upstairs to a room near their classroom. They were watching ‘101 Dalmations’…it was their TV time! As I entered, the warm face of a teacher welcomed me and gestured me to sit down. The childre in that room- 12 girls- turned towards me. After I said a hi, they all chorused a hello to me. I asked them to introduce themselves one by one and they did it smartly inspite of a few shy ones.

The teacher explained that they are not put through different classrooms for study, but in one classroom irrespective of their age. The eldest among them was 12 years old and the youngest one, 6 year. Basic english and mathematics were taught, then they had games and art time. They were also taught about nature and all neccessary things needed to be known.  

When I enquired about the boys, the teacher said that there are none, ’cause all of them are adopted! My last visit also gave me glimpses of only girls aged between 1-3 years! Is it that even now parents favor the male child?

After taking a few pics and mingling with them, I followed them to their tea room across the street. I shared tea with them…feeling like I have returned to my innocence again. They were smart enough to show the dances and songs they had learnt. I then saw a room of beds next to their tea room and on enquiry came to know that it was a room for the pregnant ladies who did not want children. They are allowed to stay there until delivery and then sent away after the kids are born. It was a painful thought. After an hour alone with the girls, I said bye to them and their caretaker for the night had arrived to usher them to their room upstairs.

I walked away waving bye to them to their tiny hands and bright faces from their bedroom window. They gave me a  poster with their names written in the different colors of their dreams that they weave.

kids drawing at adoption center, bangalore, india


This article is a sequel to:

  1. Our assignments
  2. Adoption : The Answers (i)
  3. Adoption: The Answers (ii)

Adoption: The Answers (ii)

Posted by and on 07 Apr 2006 | Category: adoption in india

It was a monday when I visited Akshaya Children’s Home in Bangalore. It is approved by the government for adoption. So, I found it to be a place to get reliable information.

As I entered I saw a white cradle hung at the enterance with a bell, like saying, “come and put your baby here and we’ll take care of it”. Then a bit further, I saw a table full of  some 8 month olds sitting around the table on chairs and a lady playing with them. They were such adorable angels! All of them were girls. Then we went to the office, where a lady told that all social workers were in a meeting and it is a busy day so we would have to wait for a while to meet any one of them.

So, we were waiting and I saw a a class being conducted. A while later one of the social workers, came to attend to us. I spoke to her. Looked like they are not allowed to give away information on like that freely, because they need to check if what they would say will be published or put up anywhere. I did not inform her about the website for the fear that she might not give any information at all. So, this is all what she could give in her limited time:

  •  Who can adopt?

The couples who want to adopt must be married at least for 2 years. 

If a single mother is adopting, she needs to be 30- 35 years old. For single men to adopt, they need to be at least 30 years old. Single parents can adopt children of their own sex, that is, single women can adopt only daughters and single men can adopt only sons. They cannot adopt babies, but children above 2-3 years old.

The number of couples willing to adopt children is more than the children in the orphanage (as per the information given). So, they would encourage parents without the capacity to bear children to adopt first.

  • Is there an age limit?

To adopt kids below 1 yr, the oldest spouse must be below 45 years. Then with the increase in age of the adopter, the age of the adoptable child also increases proportionately.

  • Finacial matters?

The minimum monthly income they are looking at Rs. 10 000

Religion matters…

It is easy to adopt by a Hindu couple as once a child is adopted, the child is treated like their own kid. While for any others (christians, muslims etc…), once you adopt a child, you are just guardians or foster parents to the kid. Which means, you have to write a will for the child, to support the child in case anything happens to the adopting parents. Moreover, the adopted child will not enjoy any facilities provided by the government as you are just like guardians to the kid.

  • Can you chose your child?

You can specify the age and sex of the child that you prefer to adopt, and you might be even shown one or two kids, based on availability, but no choices beyond that.

  • What is the basic procedure?
  1. To be kept in mind is that, couples can adopt only from the place of residence. So, if you are in Delhi, you can adopt from Delhi, not from Bangalore.
  2. To follow the procedures, the couple need to register with VCA- Voluntary Coordinating Agency. They will guide the parents through the adoption process. They will also direct the couples to adoption agencies like Akshaya Children’s Home.
  3. Then the social worker from the agency will conduct a home visit.
  4. There might be a waiting period as the number of parents who want to adopt is more than the kids available (so they say). Once the child and adoption is finalised, a medical examination is conducted for the child. The couple need to submit their medical reports as well.
  5. Follow-up home visits take place as and when the agency will be able to conduct one.

Adoption : The Answers (i)

Posted by and on 15 Mar 2006 | Category: adoption in india

Answers to previous post on Adoption

1. Reasons to adopt:

According to me, I have been blessed with a home and able parents. There are many ‘not so’ fortunate kids out there who want to have a family, someone to assist, guide and love. If intentions are good and strong, fortunate ones like me can always look at giving at least one of them a home, guidance and love. This could be my way of thanking life for all the good things I have in life, like my love Roxy (in fact, he is the best to happen! I love him so much!).

2. Procedures for adoption by christian family:

Progress so far:

a. Met Sis. Carmel in St. Patrick’s Orphanage in Bangalore. She informed that they are not into adoption and as per the rules of the Church, information on adoption is not given out freely. I was asked to contact Fr. Jayanathan who might be of some help, but only after taking an appointment.
b. Then, she suggested a place called Shishu Bhavan in Bangalore where information on all this can be obtained, but I have also learnt that they are not so keen giving kids on adoption by Indians, but by parents of foreign origin. Weird! But they must have their own reasons.
c. I also got to know of a place called Vatsalyam in Bangalore, but yet to get more information on it.

3. Psychological problems when you have own child and adopted child in the same family.

 According to me, there should be a concrete and valid reason on why a couple is opting to adopt a child inspite of  them being medically fit to be parents themselves.

If the couple choses to adopt and have a child of their own, the following problems might crop up (mostly owing to natural human behaviour) :

a. Naturally, a tendency to pay more attention to their own kid than the adopted one, may show up in the behaviour of the parents.
b.The couple needs to be financially strong to support the adopted child and their own, else, there would be problems on that front too. That is, spending more on own kid and not giving equal importance to both the kids or, giving best opportunities to own kid than the adopted kid.
c. The adopted child might sense a feeling of negelect due to the above and if not handled properly, might lead to unacceptable behaviour.
d. The adopted child’s mentality will also come into picture depending on which she/he is not to be told about the fact that she/he is adopted. But, is that legal in India to keep the fact hidden from the adopted? (needs to be researched)
e. Parents might face questions from society on why child is being adopted.Indian society does not know how to mind their own lives, but believes in minding everyone else’s lives more 😀
f. Society’s pressure can hit the children’s psychology, mostly the adopted kid’s psychology, leading to complicated problems, which might in turn be a problem to the parents.
g. Any problem detected in the child (psycological/ physical/ others) in a later stage, can lead the parents to slowly abandon  the interest in that child.

It is necessary that the parents are consciously aware of these problems and maturely decide to adopt a child ‘coz in a bid to give life, they should not spoil one (or many). They should be strong enough to face any problems that might arise due to this adoption- there can be many. Then, it is about how tenderly you care for the child as your own, and in fact, more than your own child. This can happen if you truly find the love to adopt a child and give a life to it in your heart.

Older Entries »