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Royal Navy - Service Registers - Officers including WWI (Military)

Nature of Source

Details of an officer's career and personal details. Although the records date back to 1756, the service details of officers were not kept in any systematic manner until after 1840.

The officer grade consisted of warrant and commissioned officers. Warrant officers were appointed by the Admiralty for a particular technical skill or knowledge and worked in a number of occupations such as purser's mate, boatswain, carpenter, gunner, cook, surgeon's mate, sailmaker, armourer and cooper. Warrant Officers also included masters pre-1808, surgeons, pursers and chaplains pre-1843 and engineers pre-1847. These posts became commissioned officers after these dates. Warrant officers rank below that of a commissioned officer but above a non-commissioned officer.

Commissioned officers are appointed to a position of command directly from the Crown and included admirals, commodores, captains, commanders and lieutenants. A non-commissioned officer (NCO) is appointed to a position of authority by promotion through the ranks. Petty officers or Senior Ratings are non-commissioned but rank below an NCO.

The service records document the officer's full service history so they could include WWI and WWII and could possibly extend into the 1960s. However the majority of the records cover the period from 1840 to 1910. A number of dating systems were used for the registers which means that an officer may appear in various volumes. For WWI research, the date of entry as a midshipman is available from the Navy List.

Service records of officers who joined after 1 May 1917 are held at the Ministry of Defence. If an officer joined before 1917 and remained in service beyond WWII, then the documents will remain in ADM 196 and could cover up to 1966. 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 196, Officers' Service Records, 1756-1966. The material is arranged by the date of entry as a midshipman which is the lowest rank of officer. The Navy Lists should provide this key date. A Name index to ADM 196/58-67, 83, 97-105 can be found in ADM 313/110. A Surname card index is available at TNA, but is not complete and does not include WWI material)
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

1756 - 1931

Genealogical Value

Officer's name, rank, date and place of birth, address, marriage details and death date; Naval career and ships served on; Names of parents and wives.

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 the Royal Naval Officers' Service Records found in series ADM 196) (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 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)
TNA Online Collections (Royal Naval Officers' Service Records: Service records of officers who joined the Royal Navy, 1756-1917 extracted from series ADM 196; Naval Officers' Service Record Cards and Files: Service records of officers who joined the Royal Navy, Royal Naval Reserve, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and Women's Royal Naval Service, 1880-1960 extracted from series ADM 340. 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) (ADM 196: Officers' Service Records, 1756-1966. TNA Digital Microfilm allows free downloads of records which were previously available only on microfilm in the reading room)
(Royal Navy Officers 1899-1919. The Royal Navy Officers records contain the complete service histories of up to 79,000 Royal Navy officers who joined the Royal Navy between 1899 and 1919 extracted from TNA series ADM 196)
(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) (Naval Biographical Database: Biographical information on Royal Navy commission, warrant and yard officers extracted from a variety of sources, starting from 1660. The database also identifies volunteers who supported the Navy as well as a complete ship listing including places. Expect to find the person's name, rank, entry and discharge date, pension award, date of death and family members)
(World War II Unit Histories & Officers: British Officers, including Commonwealth officers serving in British units. Lists and biographies of officers who served in the British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force) (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) (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) (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) (Trafalgar Ancestors: Names and details of those that served in the Battle of Trafalgar compiled by Bruno Pappalardo) (Dartmouth Royal Naval College Staff 1928 including officers, masters and staff)

CD Roms (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)
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)