Shimla does not attract them just for beauty or heritage. Curious of their ‘historical connect’ with this erstwhile summer capital of the British rule in India, the Britons come calling in Shimla even today to dig out their roots.
And Shimla too has kept this old link alive, with its municipality, one of the oldest in the country, preserving the birth and death records of the British since 1870 in perfect shape. Better still, there is move by the Shimla Municipal Corporation (SMC) now to digitalise the entries spread on hundreds of registers in its shelves.
“Digitalisation of these more than century old records with the SMC will form part of the e-Governance project. The project, which will help the civic body to switch to on-line functioning, was stuck for some years. We have taken up the issue with National Informatics Centre (NIC) afresh,” Shimla Municipal Commissioner, Pankaj Rai told The Statesman.
Rai said this may take time, but will streamline the old records, reduce the time taken to search details and store them permanently.
The Rs.10.70 Crore e-Governance project, it learnt, hung fire for difference of opinion within the present SMC.
Even in the present system of manual search, the staff in the health wing of SMC, which maintains the birth and death records, said the British visitors are simply impressed, when they get the piece of their history (the birth or death certificate) in just Rs five per copy the same day. Many of them even click pictures of official records of their ancestors in registers for permanent impression.
Keen on searching their roots on ground as well as in written records, the British keep visiting Shimla round the year.
They go around, looking for records, British era buildings, houses, places and even the graves of their ancestors, who once lived here. (The graves, although are not in good shape now and inscriptions on them having faded with time).
“In England, the trend of tracing the family tree is catching up that brings many British families here. They come here to complete the documentation of their family history, taking cue from the diaries or other jottings by their ancestors in their possession," said Sumit Raj Vashisht, a heritage writer. Vashisht shared that a British national was here last year with a list of 35 elders and he moved around a lot to look for minute details.
A prominent visitor from Britain a couple of years ago was Sally Camps, great-granddaughter of Clement Attlee, who served as Britain’s prime minister from 1945 to 1951.
Sally, who came for her father John Keith Harwood’s birth certificate, got emotional as she saw entry of his birth dating 1926 in the SMC register preserved as such, said an SMC official.