Painting of sailing ships in battle at sea (Catalogue reference: MPI 1/536)

This is a brief guide to researching Royal Naval records for a commissioned officerA person who holds their position by royal commission. Separate and senior to both warrant officers and 'ratings'.. 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.

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

Did you know?

A commissioned officerA person who holds their position by royal commission. Separate and senior to both warrant officers and 'ratings'. was someone who became an officer by being awarded a royal commission, usually after passing an examination. These are different from warrant officerswarrant officer - a person who holds their position by Admiralty warrant - they are junior to commissioned officers and senior to ratings.

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