1. Naval log books
The various types of naval logs rarely provide personal information on the officers and crew of a particular ship. Their main purpose was to record the ship's position, movements, and weather, but a log may sometimes include references to loss or damage to stores, and disciplinary action.
However, they do provide a reliable record of a ship's voyages which can be useful whether you are researching an individual on board or the ship itself. The surgeon's log (see below) may even give a glimpse of daily life on board ship, from a less official perspective.
The reports of proceedings, and captain's letters, were designed to be (and are) more informative: they were summaries of activities sent to the Admiralty precisely to keep them informed as to what was going on.
All the records can be searched by ship's/submarine's name and year.
1.1 Admirals' journals (1702-1916)
These are the official journals of admirals and officers of acting flag rank, and are of varying forms and completeness. They are to be found in ADM 50 and give daily summaries of navigation, weather, orders, signals, manoeuvres and other official business. Until 1855, they are listed alphabetically by name of admiral, after which they are listed by station or squadron.
1.2 Masters' logs (1672-1871)
Masters' logs (ADM 52 and ADM 54) record a ship's position, course and the weather, and were kept for navigational purposes by the Sailing Master of the ship. Together the two classes cover the period from 1672 to 1871. They also record details of punishments carried out, employment of hands, and any discrepancies found when opening casks of food or drink so as to make subsequent claims against suppliers. Until the 1850s the Sailing Master was responsible for planning the layout of the log and made sketches and charts of land and harbours which were circulated as navigational aids. The class is listed in alphabetical order of ship's name and then by date. Some Masters' or Captains' journals are included in order to maintain the continuity of the class. There is also a small collection of miscellaneous logs, bound into four volumes, for 1648-1706 in ADM 7/777, ADM 7/778, ADM 7/779 and ADM 7/780.
1.3 Captains' logs (1669-1852)
The Captains' logs held in ADM 51 were compiled from the masters' logs; the Captain added whatever information he thought relevant, or was obliged to give by regulation. In practice this was mainly routine shipboard information, damage to stores, employment of the ships company, etc, but the logs provide a full picture of the daily routine of a naval vessel under sail. Some logs also include a list of the crew. The class is arranged in alphabetical order of ship's name, and then by date.
1.4 Lieutenants' logs
Lieutenants' logs were also derived from the masters' logs in a similar way to the Captains' logs and are now held by the National Maritime Museum.
1.5 Explorations (1757-1904)
The Captains' and Masters' logs, together with some private journals, of voyages of exploration are to be found in ADM 55 covering the period from 1757 to 1904. Some of these have been digitised. Other log books of ships engaged on explorations will be found in ADM 51, indexed under "Explorations".
1.6 Ships' logs (1799-1967)
All of the series mentioned so far were, by the mid nineteenth century, superseded by the ships' logs now held in ADM 53. These logs were kept by the Officer of the Watch for all naval ships including battleships, aircraft carriers, cruisers and armed merchant cruisers. They record the standard navigational information as well as wheel and telegraph orders, deaths on board and visits by dignitaries or foreign officers. The Captain would inspect the log weekly and pass it to the appropriate Administrative Authority, from whence it would be sent to the Admiralty. Naval ships did not keep war diaries.
The list for ADM 53 is divided into several time periods or sections, although in each section the ships are listed in alphabetical order. This does not matter if you are doing an online search using the ship's name, and find everything you expect. Gaps in the sequence may be due to the ship undergoing a refit, or being lost during the war years. Some logs were retained as exhibits in Boards of Enquiry or court martial proceedings, and these are listed separately at the beginning of each new section of the ADM 53 paper list. For the Second World War, the logs of ships smaller than cruisers do not appear to have survived, apart from for 1939 and the early months of 1940.
1.7 Submarines' logs (1914-1967)
Submarine logs, held in ADM 173, record all wheel, telegraph and depth keeping orders, and details of battery charges, torpedo firing and navigation. They were kept by crew members otherwise engaged in steering or depth keeping, and contain many abbreviated references. Some logs are humorously annotated with notes and drawings.
1.8 Surgeons' logs (1785-1963)
Surgeons on board ship were required to keep a general journal on the health of the ship's company. Such journals are included among the records of ADM 101, Medical Journals which can be searched by name and topic.
They contain accounts of the medical or surgical treatment of men, daily sick lists, statistics on diseases and comments on the state of health of the crew. The Navy was always keen to preserve the health of its men and these journals, often written by educated men with acerbic and independent opinions, are usually the most accessible and informative source for the history of a voyage.
2. Captains' Letters and Reports of Proceedings
These contain information relating to the activities of naval vessels, in the form of letters from the commanding officer (Captain's Letters) or Reports of Proceedings (R of P), submitted to the Admiralty. They can only be accessed by original finding aids at The National Archives.
For 1793-1938, go first to the Admiralty Alphabetical Digest in ADM 12, and look under the ship's name for Captain's Letters or R of P. These references then need to be followed up in ADM 1, or in ADM 137 for the First World War. For the Second World War, they may be found in ADM 1 and ADM 199, but there is as yet no Alphabetical Digest in ADM 12 to help you find them.
The process is quite complicated. Refer to our research guide on how to find naval correspondence using ADM 12 for further help.