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Royal Navy - Registers of Seamen's Services (Service Records), Ratings (Military)

Nature of Source

Records relating to ratings who entered the navy for a fixed period covering the years from 1873 to 1923. The records concern ratings who were subjected to a new numbering system. Ratings who joined before 1873 but continued in service beyond this date might also appear in the Continuous Service Engagement Books which commence from 1853. Additional information could be added to existing service records beyond the cut off date of 1923, up to 1928.

For the 18th century and much of the 19th century, ratings only signed up for a commission on a particular ship and was only employed for the duration of the commission. Therefore, naval rating's records are rarely indexed by name with no individual service records kept on a sailor. It is therefore imperative that the name of the ship is known to conduct research on a rating. After Continuous Service was introduced in 1853, centralised records were kept on individual ratings which established a professional structure to the Navy.

The following sources could be used to establish the name of the ship served on:
Seamen's Wills in series ADM 48; wills proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury which was used as the probate court for sailors who died abroad or at sea (see Royal Navy/Royal Marines - Casualty Records for more details)
Certificates of Service (see Royal Navy/Royal Marines - Certificates of Service - Ratings & Officers)
The Trafalgar Ancestors project aims to list all those who served in the Battle of Trafalgar and will provide amongst other things the name of the ship served on; parish marriage registers might record the name of the ship served on
Pension records especially ADM 73/1-35, Greenwich Hospital Pensioners' Admission Papers which are indexed by surname (see Royal Navy/Royal Marines - Pensions to the Wounded, Retired, Widows & Orphans - Ratings & Officers.

Royal Navy ex-servicemen suffering mental illness were treated at Hoxton House in London until 1818 and thereafter at the Royal Hospital Haslar near Gosport, Hampshire until 1854. The records can be found at The National Archives in series ADM 102/415-20 for Hoxton House and in series ADM 102/356-73 for Haslar.

Also look for the records of the King's Freemen which relate to discharged servicemen given special privileges to trade in towns and cities across Britain. Those given the right to trade were not officially Freemen but merely granted the right by the Crown. The rights also extended to the man's wife and children. The records contain the man's discharge papers and marriage and baptism certificates for the wives and children. The records begin around 1749 and extend to 1816. The London Metropolitan Archives holds about 4,000 sets of discharge papers of servicemen permitted to trade in the City of London with a name index. For more information see the online leaflet 'King's Freemen' and their Records in the CLRO'.  

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.

Also see

Casualty Records, Ratings & Officers
Certificates of Service - Ratings & Officers
Continuous Service Engagement Books, (Service Records) Ratings
Muster & Pay Books (Service Records) - Ratings & Officers
Medal Rolls, Ratings & Officers
Pensions to Widows & Orphans- Ratings

Where Found

The National Archives (ADM 188, Royal Navy Registers of Seamen's Services. Although the series starts from 1853, most records start from 1873 and are arranged by date of entry and service number. ADM 188 documents also include the service records of men who served in the Royal Naval Air Service [RNAS] mainly during the First World War, denoted by service numbers prefixed with the letter "F")
The National Archives (ADM 362, Royal Navy Registers of Seaman's Services, 1925-1929; ADM 363, Admiralty: Royal Navy Seamen's Services Continuous Record [CR] Cards,

Surname indexes can be found in series ADM 188/245-267, 1853-1891; ADM 188/1132-1154, 1892-1912; ADM 188/1155-1177, 1913-1923)

Digital copies of selected records within this series are available to search and download at TNA’s website or at (see below). The indexes to ADM 139 and ADM 188 are also available to download as part of the DigitalMicrofilm project.

Fleet Air Arm Museum (The museum hold material relating to the Royal Naval Air Service and the Fleet Air Arm from official and private sources including service records, squadron line books, aircraft accident records, air stations, operations, ships and equipment. The museum also has custody of Royal Navy & Royal Marines Service Documents)
Royal Naval Museum (The museum houses a collection of naval related books, manuscripts and images, including the collections from the Admiralty Library formerly housed in London. The museum library offers a number of resources for those researching family histories with a number of Information Sheets available online including a guide to naval rankings. The Online Catalogue provides access to the Manuscript, Oral History, Photographic and WRNS collections)

Period Covered

1873 - 1923

Genealogical Value

Name, age, occupation and date and place of birth of rating. Physical description with notes about 'character' and 'ability' and wounds received. Summary of service, including details of discharge and death if occurred in service. Listing of each ship served on and any badges issued.

Further References

Addis, C.P. The Men Who Fought with Nelson in HMS Victory at Trafalgar: Nelson Society, 1988


Adkins, Roy & Lesley. Jack Tar: The Extraordinary Lives of Ordinary Seamen in Nelson's Navy: Abacus, 2009


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


Burt, R.A. British Battleships of World War One: Seaforth, 2012


Clarke, John D. Men of HMS Victory at Trafalgar Including the Muster Roll, Casualties, Rewards and Medals: Naval & Military Press 2002


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


Coleman, E.C. Rank and Rate: Insignia of Royal Naval Ratings, WRNS, Royal Marines, QARNNS and Auxiliaries: Crowood Press, 2012


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 Naval Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians: Pen & Sword Books, 2011


Gregson, Keith. Nelson's Navy 1793-1815: Federation of Family History Societies, 2006


Hadaway, Stuart. Tracing Your Great War Ancestors: The Egypt and Palestine Campaigns: A Guide for Family Historians: Pen and Sword Books, 2017

Hurst, Norman (comp). Naval Chronicle, 1799-1818: Index to Births, Marriages and Deaths: N. Hurst, 1989


Ingham, Mary. Tracing Your Service Women Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians: Pen and Sword Books 2012


Lavery, Brian. Life in Nelson's Navy: The History Press, 2011


Lavery, Brian. Empire of the Seas: The Remarkable Story of How the Navy Forged the Modern World: Conway, 2012


Lavery, Brian. Nelson's Navy: The Ships, Men and Organisation, 1793-1815: Conway, 2013


Mackenzie, Robert Holden. The Trafalgar Roll: The Ships and the Officers: Chatham, 2004


Morris, Stuart. Dorset, The Royal Navy: Dovecote Press, 2011  

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


Pappalardo, Bruno. Royal Navy Lieutenants' Passing Certificates 1691-1902: List & Index Society, 2001 (Available in The National Archives reading rooms)


Pope, Dudley.Life In Nelson's Navy: Chatham Publishing, 1997


Prysor, Glyn. Citizen Sailors: The Royal Navy In the Second World War: Penguin Books, 2012


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


Royal Marines Historical Society. A Register of Royal Marine Deaths, 1914-19: 1991


Spencer, William. Family History in the Wars: The National Archives, 2007


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


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


Tracy, Nicholas. The Naval Chronicle: The Contemporary Record of the Royal Navy at War, vols 1-5: various publishers


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


Waller, Ian. My Ancestor was in the Royal Navy: Society of Genealogists, 2014


Watts, Christopher T. and Watts, Michael J. Tracing Births, Deaths and Marriages at Sea: Society of Genealogists, 2004


Willis, Sam. In the Hour of Victory: The Royal Navy At War in the Age Nelson: Atlantic Books, 2014


Wills, Simon. Tracing Your Seafaring Ancestors: A Guide to Maritime Photographs for Family Historians: Pen and Sword Books, 2016

Wilson, Alastair. A Biographical Dictionary of The Twentieth Century Royal Navy: Volume 1 Admirals of the Fleet and Admirals: Seaforth, 2013


TNA Research Guides

Websites (TNA guide to Royal Naval Seamen service records found in ADM 188 and ADM 139, 1853-1923) (TNA Guide: Looking for a subject, Military history) (TNA Guide: Looking for a person, Navy) (British Maritime History: Background to researching mariners: Mercantile & Naval) (Officer Ranks in the Royal Navy: The Naval Hierarchy Explained) (UK Military Family History Online: Links to web sites with online data and information to aid in military family history research) (GENUKI Military guide with useful links) (National Maritime Museum: The Royal Navy: Guides to tracing people, ship records, administrative records, naval gunnery etc) (Imperial War Museum, Your History, Family History: Royal Navy: Information sheets include Tracing Royal Navy Ancestry, Naval Service Records and List of Abbreviations) (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 the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805) (Navy Records Society: Publisher of original documents on the Royal Navy) (Naval Dockyards Society)

Online Databases (Royal Navy Registers of Seamen's Services, 1848-1939. These registers record the service of seamen in the Royal Navy. Records include birthdate, birthplace, vessels served on, and dates of service. The original data can be found in TNA series ADM 188, ADM 362 and ADM 363) (Royal Navy First World War-Lives At Sea. This unique free resource derived mainly from transcriptions of service records lets you search for information about Royal Navy officers and ratings who served during the First World War. You can also find out more about the crews on different ships and at different battles during the war. Much of the information is being extracted from the Royal Navy Officers’ and ratings’ service records held by the TNA in the series ADM 196 and ADM 188)
(British Royal Naval Reserve 1899-1930. The dataset consists of over 81,000 service cards of officers and ratings who served with the RNR extracted from TNA series ADM 337 and ADM 240) (British Royal Navy & Royal Marines Service and Pension Records, 1704-1919. The dataset consists of an assortment of documents kept by the Greenwich Hospital and the Royal Hospital Chelsea to record the details of Greenwich Pensioners) (British Royal Navy Seamen 1899-1924. The records contain the complete service histories of up to 394,000 ratings. The period covered takes in both the Boer War [1899-1902] and World War 1 [1914-1918]. Each record is an image and transcript of a Royal Navy Seaman's service record from The National Archives ADM 188 series)
TNA Online Collections (Registers of Seamen's Services: Service registers of more than 600,000 seamen in the Royal Navy, 1853-1923, extracted from series ADM 188 and ADM 139; Wills of Royal Naval Seamen: A collection of around 20,000 wills made by seamen of the Royal Navy 1786-1882. 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) (Royal Navy Registers of Seamen's Services, 1900-1928. These registers record the service of seamen in the Royal Navy extracted from series ADM 188. The records include birthdate, birthplace, vessels served on, and dates of service. The registers include seamen who began their service between 1900 and 1918, with dates of service up through 1928)
(Web: UK, Wills of Royal Naval Seamen Index, 1786-1882. Ancestry search linked to The National Archives website) (Royal Naval Reserve service records, 1860-1955. Service records of ratings who served in the Royal Naval Reserve between 1860 and 1955. There are over 148,000 records for this period. Predominantly these cover the First World War. The RNR was established in 1859 as a reserve force of officers and men from deep-sea merchant ships. By 1890 there were 20,000 men in the RNR. These records are held by The National Archives in series BT 164 and BT 377)
(UK, Naval Officer and Rating Service Records, 1802-1919. British officers and ratings [non-commissioned seamen] in the Royal Navy were awarded pensions after 20 years’ service. This collection includes records that documented that service, including musters and pay registers, which were compiled by the Navy Pay Office) (Web: UK, Royal Naval Reserve Service Records Index, 1860-1955. Ancestry search linked to The National Archives website) (Indexes from ADM 188: Royal Navy Registers of Seamen's Services. TNA Digital Microfilm allows free downloads of records which were previously available only on microfilm in the reading room)
(British Royal Navy Allotment Declarations, 1795-1852. Over 485,000 records held in TNA series ADM 27 showing details of seamen applications for allotments) (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) (Navy Records Online is an online archive of miscellaneous British naval records including charts, portraits, cartoons, logs, letters, diaries, battle plans, sketchbooks, photograph albums and videos)
(Forces Reunited: British Armed Forces community reunion site searchable by individual name or by unit. The site also has forums, military news, photo gallery and many other great sections) (Armed forces deaths 1796-1994 and GRO Naval war deaths WWI and WWII) (WW1 Ships Lost At Sea, 1914-1919: Details of British Royal Navy ships that were destroyed during WWI including details of officers killed or wounded on each ship) (Casualty Lists of the Royal And Dominion Navies 1889-2009, researched and compiled by Don Kindell) (Trafalgar Ancestors: Names and details of those that served in the Battle of Trafalgar compiled by Bruno Pappalardo) (The Complete Navy List of the Napoleonic Wars, 1793-1815: Transcribed names and details of more than 11,000 commissioned officers who served in the Royal Navy from 1787 onwards, up to those who entered the service before 1817) (The Ayshford Trafalgar Roll: Names and details of over 21,000 seamen and marines who fought at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805) (Transcripts of the ADM 26 registers which allowed ratings/sailors and not officers to remit part of their pay to a third party, usually a relative, 1795-1851)

CD Roms

Archive CD Books (1861 Census - Royal Navy at Sea & Ports Abroad)
S & N Genealogy Supplies (Royal Navy Ships at Sea and in Ports Abroad in the 1871 Census and 1901 census)
The Parish Register Transcription Society (Surrey Recruitment Register, 1908-1933 first published by the Surrey History Trust)
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) (The Complete Navy List of the Napoleonic Wars, 1793-1815: Transcribed names and details of more than 11,000 commissioned officers who served in the Royal Navy from 1787 onwards, up to those who entered the service before 1817) (The Ayshford Trafalgar Roll: Names and details of over 21,000 seamen and marines who fought at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805)