Photograph of an office worker at HMSO, 1920 (Catalogue reference: STAT 20/402)

This is a brief guide to researching records of civil or crown servants.

Many of these records do not survive, except for those serving in a very senior position, and those that do survive can be difficult to find.

  • What do I need to know before I start?

    • Try to find out:

      • the name of the person
      • the organisation they worked in
      • the date range to focus search
  • What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

    • The Royal Archives

      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.

  • What other resources will help me find information?

    • Websites

      Consult Office-Holders in Modern Britain on the Institute of Historical Research website for information up to the 19th century.

      Search the Database of Court Officers 1660-1837 on the Loyola University of Chicago website.

      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'. 


    • Printed sources

      Consult the Royal Kalendar (1767-1890), the British Imperial Calendar (1809-1972), the Civil Service Year Book (1972- ), the Foreign Office List (1852-1965), the Colonial Office List (1862-1966) or The Diplomatic List (1966- ).

      Consult Officials of the Royal Household, 1660-1837, Part I: Department of the Lord Chamberlain and associated offices, and Part II: Departments of the Lord Steward and the Master of the Horse compiled by J C Sainty and R O Bucholz (University of London Institute of Historical Research, 1997 and 1998 respectively).

Did you know?

It is difficult to research the career of any civil servant or employee of the British Crown because, as a general rule, personnel records of administrators (whether they were based in the United Kingdom or abroad) are not kept for permanent preservation in the archives.

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

Some records of civil servants are not yet open to public inspection. Check the access conditions to records in our catalogue. In certain cases only a selection of records of civil servants who were famous, infamous or high-ranking officials are preserved in The National Archives.

Civil servants' personnel records are generally kept by the creating government department at least until the person reached 72 years of age.

The Ministry of Defence kept civilian service records until the person reached 100 years of age. Contact the Ministry of Defence for more details on how to access these records. Personal information will only be released where proof of death can be provided.

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).

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.