How to look for records of... Royal Navy warrant officers

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 brief guide to researching Royal Naval records for a warrant 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.

What do I need to know before I start?

warrant officer was a sailor who became an officer by being awarded a warrant. Warrant officers are junior tcommissioned officers and senior to ratings.

Warrant officers include: master, purser, boatswain, gunner, carpenter, surgeon, armourer, chaplain, cook, master at arms, sailmaker and schoolmaster. Bear in mind that before becoming a warrant officer they will have served as a rating so it may be worth searching ratings’ records too.

Try to find out:

  • the name and rank of the person
  • a date range to help focus your search

Records for warrant officers in the Royal Navy before 1830 are incomplete and patchy as there were no central service registers for personnel.

What records can I see online?

Royal Navy First World War Lives at Sea database

Search the Royal Navy First World War Lives at Sea database by name, service number and numerous other criteria. As of October 2016, the database contained 3,500 records and is continually being updated. By November 2018, the expected completion date, it will contain information relating to all the Royal Navy officers and ratings that served in the First World War. The database is being compiled largely from records held at The National Archives and there is no charge for access. It is a joint project between The National Archives, The National Maritime Museum and the Crew List Index Project with the help of a global team of volunteers.

Battle of Trafalgar database (1805)

Search the Trafalgar ancestors database by name for a warrant officer who served in Nelson’s fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Service records (1802-1894)

Search on Ancestry (£) by name for certificates of service for warrant officers who served between 1802 and 1894 and applied for a pension in the Royal Navy (ADM 29). The date range is specific to the application for a pension rather than the date of service of the rating involved.

If you don’t find an entry try searching the service records below – ADM 196.

Service records (1830-1931)

Search Royal Naval officers’ service records on our website (ADM 196) by name for records of most of the warrant officers who entered the Royal Navy between 1830 and 1931.

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.

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

Royal Navy warrant officer service records held by The National Archives are available online (see above).

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?

Service records (1931-present)

Visit the GOV.UK website for information about how to request a summary of a service records from the Ministry of Defence. These are not available to members of the general public, though next of kin may request access to them.

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)

Christopher Donnithorne, Warrant officers of the Royal Navy 1695-1751 (List and Index Society, 2013)

Consult the published Navy Lists to follow an officer’s career.