An Introduction to Family Genealogy

Everyone does family history nowadays. Genealogy used to belong only to the wealthy; once upon a time only they owned a past and laid claim to a history based on land and property. Now everyone who can use a computer or go to a local records office has a stake in the past.

– Alison Light, Common People (2014)

The term “genealogy” has held the public interest and started numerous debates for centuries. The study of family genealogy is concerned with the who, when, where, and what of how it all began. In layman’s terms, the word “genealogy” is an account of the descent of a person, family, or group from an ancestor. In reality, it is much more than that – it is crucial to understanding who one is, where one is from, and why one believes and practices certain ideas. 

Ever since the hit BBC television show “Who Do You Think You Are?” was aired, there has been a renewed interest in piecing together family genealogies. However, even before it hit the screen, the trend to reconstruct family history was already popular. In fact, family genealogy was an important subject of the larger tradition of oral history in pre-colonial South Asia, which gradually got replaced by written records and documents. Thus, anyone with time, patience, and perseverance can put on their detectives’ hat and piece together generations’ worth of information. But the question is – why should one be interested in tracing their family history? The answer lies in the human kind’s desire to belong. It is this desire to belong that in turn, shapes an individual’s cultural identity and perception of self. 

In our discussion so far, it becomes clear that family genealogy plays an important role in understanding one’s roots and heritage. Perhaps the greatest gift of undertaking the tedious task of tracing family history is being able to give your future generations a sense of the past, their roots, and their heritage. Cultural heritage is something that one can in the present tap into – it gives a sense of purpose and meaning to one’s life, when one finds themselves in the ever-overwhelming life of the present. Many families are working to protect and promote their heritage and have start sharing their various stories that have passed on through their generations.

Take for instance the ancient city of Bulandshahr. It has been a seat of intense historical and cultural importance and events – battles during the Mughal Era, the 1857 War for Independence and National Movements in the twentieth century. There are many ethnic groups such as the Jats, Gujjars, Pathans, and many more who settled in Bulandshahr many generations ago and continue to reside there with the intense desire to preserve their unique tales.

The Pathans of Bara Basti have been a family that stayed in this region – known as the Khanpur Estate for many centuries. Originally, horse traders in Afghanistan, they migrated to India and served as Mansabdars or military administrators under the Mughal Empire. Many of them later become important names in the war of 1857 against the British East India Company.

Cultural heritage is a complex and multifaceted entity and can be understood as a person’s unique inherited sense of family identity: the values, traditions, culture, and artifacts handed down by previous generations. This takes on a rather concrete form when one considers the centrality of family homes in an individual’s cultural heritage. With its rich and diverse cultural heritage, Bulandshahr is also replete with important heritage buildings and important family homes. Families have been living in Bulandshahr for several generations and these family homes have become important landmarks of the region.

One such important landmark is the Agarwal family home. This beautiful home is said to be the very first to be built in Bulandshahr. It was commissioned by Mr. Murli Manohar Tirlok Chand who owned a Parchun business. Many years later this home is still inhabited by the Aggarwal family and remains an important heritage building to this day.

Fig. 5: Agarwal Family House

Another interesting family home is that of the Beri family. Beri Bhawan was originally constructed by Gopal Rai, the Prime Minister of Kuchesar in the mid-19th century, and his son, Deputy Sahib. This iconic home was the residence of Deputy Sahib and his wife Rani Chandra Kanwar till the 1930s. After their demise, the home was inherited by their next of kin – the Beri family from Chandani Chowk. The house was subsequently split into five parts for the five brothers. Their descendants continue to live on the premise of the incredible home.

Fig. 6: Beri Bhawan

Perhaps one of the most fascinating landmarks at Bulandshahr is the Sirohi Haveli.  Today, a resort, The Sirohi Haveli was originally built by three Sirohi brothers, who served in British Indian Army and retired as Risladars. On retirement, three brothers were given a village each as zamindari, which was Pali Partapur, Seria, and Abhaypur. The family later settled in Pali Partapur around 1854, where presently the three Havelis exist. The structural complex comprises of three Havelis and three guest houses with a common gate and high and thick walls. The whole property was made in such a way, to protect the residents from any outside conflict. The architecture and cultural value of the Havelis continue to capture public interest.

Fig. 7: Sirohi Haveli

A person’s heritage can express itself in many ways. Some families define their heritage primarily as their ethnic, cultural, or national identity. This identity can centre around the kind of beliefs and practices they hold dear or the different stories and histories they together assert they have traversed. Other families identify it as the value that has been passed down generations – cuisine, artform, religious devotion, etc. However, in this fast-changing world where change is the only constant, it is these deep roots of heritage and cultural identity that anchors our place in the world.

References

Nickson, Chris. “Why does family history fascinate us?”. Explore Genealogy. 2012. http://www.exploregenealogy.co.uk/family-history-fascinate-us.html

Nickson, Chris. “Family History: What do you want to learn?”. Explore Genealogy. 2012. http://www.exploregenealogy.co.uk/GenealogyTypes.html

Morton, Sunny. “What is heritage? Discover your cultural identity”. Family Search. 2019. https://www.familysearch.org/blog/en/what-is-heritage/

If you seek to unlock more secrets about the Pathan genealogy of Bulandshahr, please contact Musa Munir Khan, a descendant of erstwhile Khanpur estate in Bulandshahr.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

This is Srabondeya Haldar, a third-year History student of Shiv Nadar University currently pursuing a minor in Sociology.

This is Neel Dayal, a Junior Historian and Aspiring Intellectual. I am interested in cultures, heritage and well, pretty much anything and everything.

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