Illustration of vehicle carrying Nelson’s coffin, 1806 (Catalogue reference: LC2/40)

This is a brief guide to help you with your research into a birth, marriage or death in the British Army, Royal Air Force, Royal Marines or Royal Navy. There is no single place or collection where you can easily search for a birth, marriage or death in the armed forces, although many resources are available.

  • What do I need to know before I start?

    • Try to find out:

      • the person's name (and name of their parents, spouse or next of kin, where applicable)
      • the approximate date of the birth, marriage or death, and the area where the event is likely to have taken place
      • the armed force and, if applicable, regiment
  • What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

    • British Library birth, marriage and death records for the Indian subcontinent

      Consult the Asia, Pacific and Africa Collection at the British Library for births or baptisms, marriages, and deaths or burials across the Indian subcontinent, including Burma and Aden.

  • What other resources will help me find information?

    • Websites

      Search the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website for information about deaths in the First or Second World War. 

      Search for the will of a soldier who died while serving in the British armed forces between 1850 and 1986 on probatesearch.service.gov.uk.

    • Books

      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.

      Audrey Collins and David Annal, Birth, marriage and death records (Pen and Sword, 2012)

      Amanda Bevan, Tracing your ancestors in The National Archives (The National Archives, 2006)

      CM Hobson, Airmen died in the Great War (JB Hayward & Son, 1995)

      Bruno Pappalardo, Tracing your naval ancestors (The National Archives, 2003)

Did you know?

Most records of births in the armed forces are held by the General Register Office.

Regimental registers of births and baptisms start in 1761 in England and Wales and around 1790 in other countries, and continue to 1924. They include births in the United Kingdom and abroad. The indexes are arranged alphabetically and give a name, place, year and regiment.

Army chaplains' registers (1796-1880) relate to births, marriages and deaths overseas. The index gives a name, place and date range of two to three years.

Army returns of births, marriages and deaths (1881-1955) include some Royal Air Force births from 1920 onwards.

Service departments registers of births and marriages (1956-1965) relate to army, navy and air force births and marriages abroad.

There is no casualty roll for the Royal Air Force outside of the First and Second World Wars, making some deaths difficult to trace. Some of these airmen were registered as deaths in the army or as civilian deaths, rather than as deaths in the Royal Air Force.