How to look for records of... Civil or crown servants

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

View online

How many are online?

  • None
  • Some
  • All

Order copies

We can either copy our records onto paper or deliver them to you digitally

Visit us in Kew

Visit us in Kew to see original documents or view online records for free

Pay for research

This is a guide to finding records of civil or Crown servants.

As a general rule, personnel records of civil servants or employees of the British Crown (whether they were based in the United Kingdom or abroad) are not kept for permanent preservation and therefore are not sent to The National Archives. Those that do survive tend to be of people who served in very senior positions.

Some records of civil servants held at The National Archives are not yet open to public inspection. Access conditions are indicated in our catalogue.

For how long do government departments retain personnel records?

For many years the recommended retention period for most civil servants’ employee personnel records was 85 years from the date of birth or five years after death, whichever was later. Guidance to government departments following the 1998 Data Protection Act recommended that records should be retained by the creating government department at least until the person reached 72 years of age. However, the advice to civil service departments now is that documents which have a bearing on pension entitlement should generally be kept for 100 years from date of birth. There are exceptions to all of these rules and variations between departments.

Once retention periods have elapsed records are usually destroyed.

Contact the respective government department for details on how to access their personnel records. Personal information, where it is held, will be subject to the terms of the Data Protection Act 1998.

What records can I see online?

Royal Household Staff 1526-1924

The two departments responsible for staff in the Royal Household can be broadly divided between above stairs (Lord Chamberlain’s) and below stairs (Lord Steward’s).

Search for a Royal Household employee from 1526-1924 using the Royal Household establishment lists and Royal Household index sheets (£) on findmypast.co.uk.

Civil Service evidences of age (for years of birth between 1752-1948)

Search the index to Civil Service evidences of age (£) records on findmypast.co.uk. The records were originally collected by the Civil Service Commission and are now held by the Society of Genealogists.

What records and resources can I find at The National Archives at Kew?

To access the records listed in this section you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£). Published resources are for on-site-consultation only.

Lists of staff in various government departments

Although The National Archives does not hold employment records, there are some lists of civil servants in the records of some government departments. Use the advanced search of our catalogue to search with terms such as ‘staff list’, ‘establishment list’ or ‘register of service’, selecting ‘Search The National Archives’ in the ‘Held by’ section and narrowing search results to a specific department ‘Records by government department creators’.

Senior civil servants in annually published lists

For senior civil and Crown servants the following annually published lists tend to be the easiest to locate and the most likely to record the employment of an individual but the details provided are brief. They usually include the official’s job title, job description, qualifications and any awards. They are all available in The National Archives reading rooms:

Examination marks and results (1876-1991)

Search the Civil Service Commission examination marks and results in CSC 10. These records relate to all candidates who sat examinations or attended interviews for Civil Service posts, whether home or colonial, held under open and limited competition with appointment through merit.

The Civil Service Commission administered civil service examinations from 1855 onwards.

Application papers of famous or high-ranking civil servants (1836-1976)

Search the Civil Service Commission records in CSC 11 for application papers of people who were, either at the time of application or subsequently, famous or of high rank.

The Civil Service Commissioners’ annual reports (1870-1876)

Browse CSC 4/16-23 for brief details taken from original papers for appointments between 1870 and 1876. Please note that details are brief and will not give personal details.

For example, each entry in the ‘List of all Persons for whom Certificates of Qualifications have been granted by the Civil Service Commissioners for Clerkships and similar appointments, between 1 January 1876 and 31 December 1876’ (within CSC 4/21) provides brief details such as:

  • name
  • department
  • situation (job title)
  • date of certificate

Correspondence of the Lord Chamberlain’s department (1710-1902)

Browse LC 1 in our catalogue for correspondence of the department. Registers, including those to this correspondence, are in LC 3.

Accounts of the Lord Chamberlain’s department (1483-1901)

Browse LC 9, LC 10 and LC 11 in our catalogue for accounts of the department. Many of the volumes are indexed.

Warrants of appointment of servants and officers of the Lord Steward’s department (1660-1820)

Browse LS 13/246-267 in our catalogue for Warrants of Appointment.

In 1854 the office of Lord Steward was abolished and its functions were taken over by the Master of the Royal Household, whose records are not open to the public.

Accounts of the Lord Steward’s department (1640-1761)

Browse LS 1, LS 2, LS 3, LS 4, LS 6, LS 7 and LS 8 in our catalogue for accounts of the department. Those relating to the kitchen are in LS 9, and to the royal gardens in LS 10, LS 11 and LS 12.

Lists of senior officials in the Office Holders in Modern Britain series (17th-19th centuries)

Consult published volumes of the Office Holders in Modern Britain series at our library in Kew for lists of senior officials and their appointment dates. Volumes include:

  • Officials of the Royal Household, 1660-1837, Part I: Department of the Lord Chamberlain and associated offices
  • Officials of the Royal Household, 1660-1837, Part II: Departments of the Lord Steward and the Master of the Horse
  • Treasury Officials 1660-1870
  • Officials of the Board of Trade 1660-1870

What records and resources can I find in other archives and organisations?

The Royal Archives has references to people employed in the Royal Household from the 18th century, and indexes to names of people employed from 1660 onwards.

Consult Office-Holders in Modern Britain on the Institute of Historical Research website for information on post-medieval office holders in the English central government up to the 19th century.

Search the Database of Court Officers 1660-1837 on the Loyola University of Chicago website for career details of paid officers and servants of the Royal Household.

Consult the archived website of the BIS war memorial project for names of Board of Trade employees who fought in the world wars. You may find similar lists on the ‘war memorials in other departments page’.