skip to content

Royal Marines - Attestation Forms & Description Books (Service Records), Ratings (Military)

Nature of Source

Records of details contained in Attestation Forms showing a rating's career and personal details. The forms are arranged by the marine's division and then by either the date of discharge or date of attestation.

If the original attestation papers no longer survive, then try looking for the Description Books which provide personal details of a rating extracted from the information provided on the attestation papers. The books are arranged by company within division and then by first letter of surname, however they do not provide the battalion or the name of the ship served on. They cover the period from 1755 to 1940.

For research purposes it is important to know the Division the man served in and it is highly probable that he belonged to the Division nearest his home. From 1884 all men, including those already serving, were issued with a unique number in his Division. Each Division was split into numbered companies and if the company is known it is possible to establish the man's Division from the table in Garth Thomas' Records of the Royal Marines. Otherwise see the TNA Research Guide How to find a Royal Marine's Division for guidance on establishing the rating's division.

A marine's service number can be found in the indexes in series ADM 313 at The National Archives.

The Royal Marines (officially known as The Corps of Royal Marines) were established in 1755 as part of the Royal Navy but continued to use army ranks and uniforms. Their origins date back to 1664 to the Second Anglo-Dutch War. They were composed of divisions with depots at Portsmouth, Plymouth, Chatham and from 1805 to 1869 at Woolwich. In 1923 the Royal Marine Artillery (formed 1859) and the Royal Marine Light Infantry (formed 1855) merged to form the Royal Marine Corps.

Service records for all ranks who served after 1920 remain with the Ministry of Defence with each military service maintaining its own record office. The Veterans UK web site provides contact details of where to apply for service records for each of the services.

Where Found

The National Archives (ADM 157, Royal Marines: Attestation Forms. A partial card index is available in series ADM 313/1-26. The index is available at the TNA Discovery catalogue. First click on ‘Advanced search’ and then type in the name being searched. Then under ‘Search within’ select ‘Enter a reference’ and type 'ADM 157')
The National Archives (ADM 158, Royal Marines Description Books; ADM 158/10, Lists of deserters 1842-1867)
The National Archives (ADM 185, Royal Marines, Portsmouth Division: Order, Discharge, Letter and other Books, Registers and Returns)
Royal Marines Museum (Marine Officer Lists, Army Lists, Navy lists, diaries, letters, Marine journals such as 'The Globe and the Laurel' which contains officer and other rank obituaries  and Marine histories. A card index to these obituaries is available)
Fleet Air Arm Museum (Royal Navy & Royal Marines Service Documents)

Period Covered

1790 - 1925

Genealogical Value

Attestation Forms
Name, place of birth, physical appearance and description, career and record of service of rating.
Description Books
Name, place of birth, age, appearance and career and promotions of rating. Date and place of enlistment.

Further References

Bevan, Amanda. Tracing Your Ancestors in the National Archives: The National Archives, 2006


Blank, Dr. Stuart. Researching British Military History on the Internet: Alwyn Enterprises, 2007


Brooks, Richard & Little, Matthew. Tracing Your Royal Marine Ancestors: Pen and Sword Books, 2008


Buckland, Christopher. (ed). Waterloo Medal Roll: Naval & Military Press, 2001 (Complete list of recipients of the Waterloo Medal, issued to all who took part in the battle)


Cock, Randolph & Rodger N.A.M. A Guide to the Naval Records in The National Archives of the UK: Institute of Historical Research, 2006


Divall, Ken. My Ancestor was a Royal Marine: Society of Genealogists, 2008


Fenton, Roy & Briody, Nuala & Macdonald, Mike. Maritime Information : A Guide to Libraries and Sources of Information in the United Kingdom: Maritime Information Association, 2004


Fowler, Simon. A Guide to Military History on the Internet: Pen & Sword, 2007


Fowler, Simon. Tracing Your First World War Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians: Pen & Sword, 2013


Garth, Thomas. Records of the Royal Marines: Public Record Office, 1994


Pappalardo, Bruno. Tracing Your Naval Ancestors: PRO, 2003


Rodger, N.A.M. Naval Records for Genealogists: PRO, 1998


Spencer, William. Family History in the Wars: TNA, 2007


Storey, Neil. Military Photographs and How to Date Them: Countryside Books, 2009


Tracing Your Family History. Royal Navy: Imperial War Museum, 2006


Usher, George. Dictionary of British Military History: A&C Black Publishers, 2006


TNA Research Guide: Royal Marines personnel: further areas of research (Including ‘How to find a Royal Marine's division’)

Websites (TNA Guide: Looking for records of a Royal Marine) (TNA Guide to the Royal Marines Registers of Service held in series ADM 159) (TNA Guide to the Wills of Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel 1786-1882 held in series ADM 48) (TNA Guide: Looking for a subject, Military history) (TNA Guide: Looking for a person, Marines) (Gloucestershire Genealogy: Royal Marines in the 19th Century) (Gloucestershire Genealogy: Royal Marine Service Record) (Royal Navy: 353 Years of The Royal Marines) (Royal Marines Museum: collections depicts the history of the Royal Marines from 1664 to the present day through a unique collection of artefacts, pictures and documents, personal accounts, letters and diaries, training manuals, maps, posters and sound recordings) (Royal Marines Museum: Research and collections: Genealogy. Guides and information on researching marine ancestors) (GENUKI Military guide with useful links) (UK Military Family History Online: Links to web sites with online data and information to aid in military family history research) (Military Archive Research, by Dr Stuart C Blank) (Royal Marines Service Records, by Dr Stuart Blank) (British Military Records Part 2: The Royal Navy, by Fawne Stratford-Devai) (British Library Guide: Service lists for the Army, Navy and Air Force) (Naval enthusiast site that contains a number of indexes including extracts from the Navy Lists, ship's photos & other information) (Information on battles, actions, medals, convoys, warships, merchant ships and ship losses, including photos of lost soldiers) (Online exhibition to commemorate Battle of Trafalgar in 1805)

Online Databases (Military Genealogy Forces War Records: Military records of over two million British Armed Forces personnel cross matched with over 4000 Regiments including Rolls of Honour, Crimean and Boer War Databases, Medal Rolls and Casualties Lists. The site also has a facility to access information on specific units or bases including regiments, ships, airfields) (The Jack Clegg Memorial Database of WW1 Campaign Medals to the Royal Marines 1914-1920; Royal Marine Medal Roll 1914-1920)
TNA Online Collections (Royal Marines Service Records: Service records of those who joined the Royal Marines, 1842-1936 taken from series ADM 159 TNA Online Collections is produced by The National Archives and contains online access to indexes, transcriptions and digital images of some of the TNA's most important holdings. Searches are free but a fee is levied for each downloaded item. However downloads are free if used at TNA or the Society of Genealogists)

CD Roms

Surrey History Trust (Surrey Recruitment Register, 1908-1933. details of about 85,000 men who signed up for service in Surrey between 1908 and 1933, including volunteers and conscripts in World War I)
Manchester and Lancashire FHS (Oldham Chronicle Index of Service Personnel 1914-1919: Details of service personnel mentioned in the Saturday editions of the Oldham Chronicle1914 to the end of December 1919)