It was not uncommon for British subjects to live abroad for a time. This might frustrate your efforts to find your ancestors in British census records. British subjects traveled or worked abroad, enlisted in the military, or worked for the East India Company. If your ancestor is missing from census records and then returns later, you may need to search records of British subjects living abroad. Some clues to finding where they lived during these missing years would be their occupation or the birth places of their children.
Many civil registration indexes of British subjects living abroad began earlier than 1837. The Family History Library has many of these records. To find them in the Family History Library Catalog, do a keyword search for “British Subjects.” These records include Consulate records, Church of England parish registers in foreign countries, and records of British subjects in the military. You can view the microfilms of these records at the Family History Library, or order copies to view them in your local family history center.
If you do a keyword search in the FHLC for “Chaplains civil registers,” you will see a list of microfilmed indexes to civil registration of military officers, soldiers, and their families. These records can be ordered from the General Register Office (GRO), using the references found on the microfilmed indexes. For more information, see the General Register Office website. Indexes to civil registration of British subjects living abroad are also available from the website www.findmypast.co.uk, which is available free at the Family History Library or at family history centers. You can order copies of records referenced in these indexes from the General Register Office.
In England and Wales, the oldest son would usually inherit the land and the title if there was one, so the other sons would have to make their fortunes elsewhere. One popular way to do this was to join the East India Company. Some of these records can be searched by using the Families in British India website. The Family History Library has many of the British East India Company records on microfilm. There were three presidencies in India: Bengal, Bombay, and Madras. To find microfilm numbers for these records, you can do a keyword search for the name of the Presidency and India Office. These microfilms can also be ordered at your local family history center.
So, if you are not finding your British ancestors where you expect them to be in British censuses, perhaps they were living abroad. Finding your ancestors in records abroad can be very exciting and rewarding.