News Release

Searching for Family Connections in India

Speakers share stories of their quest for Indian ancestors


Frédéric Arokium, Geeta and Arvin Naidu and Gurcharan Gill are on a mission.  They have traveled to India to raise awareness of Indian genealogy and encourage people across South India to seek out their ancestors. Each has a different story to tell, but the message is the same: it’s important to know where you come from.

Tonight they are in Chennai, yesterday it was Hyderabad, in the coming week they will travel to Rajhamundry and Visakhapatnam. 

Frédéric, a research biologist from Sandy, Utah, was born in France but his roots are in India. In 1854 his great, great grandfather, Arokium (he had no last name and his name has become the family surname), left his village of Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu and sailed from Chennai with his parents to Mauritius. His father was an indentured servant contracted to work in the sugar cane fields there. He never came back. 

After the death of his father two years ago, Frédéric began to wonder about his family history. “We could trace all our family in Mauritius, but the connection to India was lost,” he explained. “I was curious about this great, great grandfather Arokium, whose first name became my last name, so I asked my aunt for his picture. I had tears in my eyes when I saw it. I took a copy to the National Archives [Maurtius] to find out where he came from.” That is where Arokium’s quest began.

Now, more than 150 years after his ancestors left, Frédéric has returned to India to find out more about them. “Being in Chennai,” he says, “is very emotional for me. This is where all my ancestors boarded ships at different times to come over to a strange land. I believe that it was heart-wrenching to leave, but they kept moving forward with hope in their hearts. They have sacrificed a lot for us to be where we are today.”

“For some of us, it’s important to know where we come from,” says Frédéric. “I have always been curious about their lives, their dreams, hopes, and struggles.”  He adds, “It is important to know their story to better appreciate my life now and understand the amazing legacy they left to me: courage, hope, hard work, hospitality, strong family values and faith in God.”

Frédéric wants to help others find their Indian roots. For this reason, he has created the Indian Diaspora Genealogy Group on Facebook.

Both Arvind and Geeta Naidu are from Fiji and claim Indian heritage.  Despite having lived in the U.S. for many years, they haven’t forgotten their Indian roots and have been to India several times looking for their ancestors. 

Geeta explains, “In Fiji we are separated from India. We have lost contact. There are millions of us out there that love India and want to connect to our ancestors.”

Geeta’s grandfather Ibrahim was a Muslim. “He came from the village of Diwari in Haryana in 1911 as an indentured servant to work in the sugar cane fields,” she says. “He became a Christian, married and had four children. When his wife died in childbirth, he left them in an orphanage and returned to India. I am looking for him.”

“We came to India trying to find our forefathers. Because our initial attempts were fruitless, we changed our strategy. Now we focus on our fellow Indians and help them to catch the vision of family history.”

The Naidus have been inspired by Gurcharan S. Gill, a retired professor of mathematics from Brigham Young University.

Professor Gill is from the village of Dhudike outside the town of Moga in the Punjab.  Although he has lived in the United States for sixty-five years, he is still very connected to his Indian heritage.

“In 1986,” he says, “I went back to India with my parents to visit relatives and found my four generations. I also found tax revenue records for my ancestors who were landowners. Using those records, I went back eight generations.”

In 2010, he received permission to photograph tax records in 320 villages where his family was from. “Using those records,” he explains, “I have found the names of 250,000 ancestors and relatives and have traced my genealogy back to 2200 B.C.”

Now he spends six to eight hours a day pouring over digitized land records researching the Gill Clan. “If you seek, you shall find,” he says.

Peter Bushi, a Family History Manager for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, acknowledges that for most Indians, finding genealogical records is a challenge. “Start your search by talking with family members,” he advises.  “If necessary, make a trip to your ancestral village and gather information from extended family and elders there.”

That is what Annapurna Vadlamani Gutty (Anu), a young mother from Visakhapatnam, did when she started researching her paternal grandmother’s family history in 2008. Since her grandmother had passed away, she sought out her grandmother’s sister, having only her name and the city and street where she resided.

Anu found her great aunt, who received her warmly. Anu says, “she was an encyclopedia of information.” They visited for two hours and Anu left with four generations of information. “It was an amazing experience!” she says, “I’ll never forget it! I felt a strong connection with my ancestors, like they were waiting for me to get the information recorded.”

Moving beyond collective memory, Bushi points out that a variety of sources for Indian genealogy can be found at and include church, temple and government records containing information about births, marriages and deaths from the twelfth century to the present.

FamilySearch is the largest genealogy organization in the world and is dedicated to preserving the records of the family of mankind.  Its purpose is to help people connect with their ancestors through easy access to historical records. To this end, Family Search works to identify, preserve and make available genealogical records across the world, including in India. 

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that the family is divine in nature and that family relationships can be eternal. Hence, their desire to find their ancestors.

After the meeting, Frédéric talked excitedly with a young woman from the audience. It appears that they have ancestors from the same village in Tamil Nadu.  Perhaps her research can help him find another generation of family. They exchanged contact information.

“This is a labor of love,” Frédéric says.  “After all they have done for me, this is the least I can do for them.”


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