How to look for records of... Royal Navy ratings before 1853

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

Pay for research

Use our paid search service or find an independent researcher

Visit us

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

This is a brief guide to researching records of Royal Navy ratings before 1853. Royal Naval records are informative and varied, though sometimes complicated. The Royal Navy did not keep individual service records on ratings before 1853, so it can be difficult to trace a person in this period. The majority of records which may help, however, are available at The National Archives.

This guide will help you to find out if the information you are looking for exists and, if it does, where to find it or more information about it.

What do I need to know before I start?

Try to find out:

  • the name and rating of the person
  • the name of the ship the person served on
  • a date range to help focus the search

What records can I see online?

Service records (1802-1919)

Search by name the ratings’ service records (ADM 29) on Ancestry (£).

The dates given in the certificates of service books are the dates of issue of the certificates and do not necessarily cover all the service to date. If a Continuous Service (CS) or Official Number (ON) is given you should find further details in the Royal Navy ratings’ service records 1853-1923.

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 (£). These rolls do not usually contain biographical information.

Digital microfilm copies of these records are also available to download and browse from our website free of charge.

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

Battle of Trafalgar database (1805)

Search the Trafalgar ancestors database for information on a rating who served in Nelson’s fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar. The search will give you the relevant National Archives document references.

Ships’ musters, ledgers and pay books (1667-1878)

Search Discovery, our catalogue, for a muster or pay book for a particular ship to find lists of  serving on the ship (ADM 31-ADM 39, ADM 41, ADM 115, ADM 117, and ADM 119).

From 1764 a man’s age and place of birth should be included, but not always.

Search below by name of ship, excluding HMS or other prefixes.

Pension and next of kin records (1789-1894)

Search our catalogue by name for ratings‘ pension records and next of kin records.

These include:

  • ratings’ applications for admission into Royal Greenwich Hospital in ADM 73/1-35
  • Greenwich Hospital School applications for children, often orphans, of seamen in ADM 73/154-389

Search below by forename and surname (ADM 73).

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 (£).

What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

Records held elsewhere

Discovery, our catalogue has details of collections held by The National Archives over 2500 archives across the UK. Search our catalogue using keywords; you can refine your results using the filters.

What other resources will help me find information?


Use our library catalogue to find a recommended book list.

The books are all available in The National Archives’ reference library. You may also be able to find them in a local library. You can buy from a wide range of history titles in our bookshop.

Did you know?

rating is the most junior class of seaman in the Royal Navy – these are below both commissioned officers and warrant officer in seniority.

Records for ratings in the Royal Navy pre-1853 are incomplete and patchy with no real service registers for personnel.

Description books may contain the following information on a person:

  • age
  • height
  • complexion
  • scars and tattoos