This is a brief guide to researching Royal Naval records for a commissioned officer. These records are comprehensive and varied, though sometimes complicated. While many records are available at The National Archives, some service records are currently held by the Ministry of Defence.
1. What do I need to know before I start?
Try to find out:
- the name and rank of the person
- a date range to help focus the search
2. What records can I see online?
Service records (1756-1917)
Search Royal Naval Officers’ service records on our website (ADM 196) by name for a commissioned officer who entered the Royal Navy between 1756 and 1917. The records for the 18th and early 19th centuries are sparse but for the later period almost all of the available service records are accessible in this online collection.
Naval officers’ service record cards and files (c1880-1950s)
Search Naval officers’ service record cards and files online (ADM 340/1-150) by name for commissioned officers serving in the Royal Navy between c1880 and the 1950s. To view ADM 340/151-456 visit The National Archives at Kew.
Medal rolls (1793-1972)
Search by name for information about the award of campaign, long service and good conduct medals in the Royal Navy medal rolls (ADM 171) using Ancestry.co.uk (£). These rolls do not usually contain biographical information. Digital microfilm copies of these records are also available to download from our website and browse free of charge.
Index of naval officers who died between 1914 and 1920
Search the card index of naval officers killed 1914-1920 (ADM 242/1-5), including some officers of the Royal Marines and Naval Reserve, and of the Canadian and Australian navies, among the records of maritime deaths on findmypast (£).
3. What records can I find at The National Archives at Kew?
Battle of Trafalgar (1805)
Search the Trafalgar ancestors database by name for a British officer who served in the Battle of Trafalgar.
To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).
4. What records can I find in other archives and organisations?
Service records (1917-present)
Visit the GOV.UK website for information about how to request a summary of a service record for a Royal Navy officer who joined the service after May 1917 from the Ministry of Defence. These are not available to members of the general public, though next of kin may request access to them.
5. What other resources will help me find information?
Search The National Archives’ bookshop to see whether any of the publications below may be available to buy. Alternatively, look in The National Archives’ library catalogue to see what is available to consult at Kew.
Bruno Pappalardo, Tracing Your Naval Ancestors (The National Archives, 2003)
Bruno Pappalardo, Royal Navy Lieutenants’ Passing Certificates, 1691-1902 (List and Index Society, volumes 289-290)
Consult the published Navy Lists to follow an officer’s career.
Search The Commissioned Sea Officers of the Royal Navy on Ancestry (£).
6. Did you know?
A commissioned officer was someone who became an officer by being awarded a royal commission, usually after passing an examination. These are different from warrant officers.
Service records for officers joining after May 1917 are held by the Ministry of Defence. They are not open to the general public, although next of kin may request access to them.
Records for commissioned officers in the Royal Navy before about 1845 are incomplete and patchy.
If you are looking for mentions of officers in records before 1649, read State papers domestic 1547-1649 for guidance.
Commissioned officers include: Admiral of the fleet, admiral, vice-admiral, rear-admiral, commodore, captain, commander, lieutenant-commander, lieutenant, and sub-lieutenant.
Navy lists contain:
- seniority lists of officers
- which officer was assigned to a ship