Nelson, Trafalager and those who served


Trafalgar ancestors

About this database

Why was it written?

This database celebrates the 18,000 plus individuals who fought in the Battle of the Trafalgar on the side of the Royal Navy.

The victory over the combined fleets of France and Spain, as a result of the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805, is considered one of Britain's greatest and most significant military victories. It thwarted Napoleon's plans to invade Britain at the time, and it laid the foundation of Britain's undisputed mastery of the sea into the twentieth century.

What does it contain?

Trafalgar Ancestors lists all those who fought in Nelson's fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar. This includes Royal Navy commissioned and warrant officers, ratings, supernumeraries and Royal Marines. Collectively these individuals were born in a surprisingly wide range of continents and countries, for example, Africa, America, West Indies, India, and most countries in Europe. Moreover, Trafalgar Ancestors, contains reference to Jane Townshend - the only woman positively identified as having served at Trafalgar.

Trafalgar Ancestors is an ongoing project which over time aims to provide genealogical and service details about these individuals from a range of published sources and documents, but in particular the Admiralty records held by The National Archives. The overall aim is to eventually revise, extend and bring up to date Mackenzie's Trafalgar Roll.

In 1805, the Royal Navy employed around 110,000 individuals. So, if your ancestor served in the Royal Navy in 1805, there is roughly a one in six chance that they served in the Battle of Trafalgar. Trafalgar Ancestors can be searched by surname, but also using its advanced search facility, by first name; age on 21 October 1805; birthplace; ship's name; rating and rank.

What sources is it based on?

Ships' musters

The key records that we hold which underpin Trafalgar Ancestors are ships' musters drawn mainly from the ADM 36 and ADM 37 series, which cover 1688 to 1842. These musters, in effect pay records, list the names of all the crew serving on board a ship at a particular time. For the ship's crew (but not usually for officers and Royal Marines) musters provide individual's place of birth and their age when joining the ship. They can also indicate from which ship a person joined and what ship they were discharged to. We hold such records for all the 33 ships that made up Nelson's fleet at Trafalgar.

Ship's musters are the key source for piecing together the careers of men that served in the Royal Navy in this period of time given that it only began to systematically keep service records for every officer and rating from the mid nineteenth century onwards.

It is straight forward to find out whether we hold a ship's muster - or indeed ship's logs if they are also of interest. This can be done by typing the name of the ship and the dates required, limiting the search to ADM records in our catalogue search form.

Certificates of service

Other significant series of records we hold that are being used in the compilation of the Trafalgar Ancestors database are the records in ADM 29/1-96. These are certificates of service compiled for officers and men who applied for a pension, gratuity, or medal. Name searches of these records can be carried out using our catalogue.

Greenwich Hospital in-pensioners

Many men that served at Trafalgar ended up in Greenwich Hospital as resident in-pensioners. The National Archives holds in ADM 73, the records of individuals' applications to enter the hospital. These records which cover 1790-1865, are arranged by the initial letter of the applicant's surname and by date. These applications can contain a lot of detail about an applicant's service in the navy and genealogical information about them.

Passing certificates

For officers, the main sources held by The National Archives which are being used for Trafalgar Ancestors are passing certificates. These records are a vital source for tracing information about the early part of an officer's career. Lieutenant's passing certificates in ADM 6, ADM 13 and ADM 107, which cover 1691-1902, relate to the examination taken by junior officers who wished to gain a commission. They could take the exam after serving at least 6 years in a junior capacity to assess whether they were suitable candidates for a lieutenancy in the Royal Navy. These records provide details of ships served and are often accompanied by candidate's baptismal certificates. A List and Index Society nominal index to these records is available in the reading rooms at The National Archives.

Survey returns

Another rich source for officers are the various survey returns that the Admiralty asked them to complete from 1817, which can be found in ADM 6, ADM 9, and ADM 11. Officers were asked to supply details of their careers so that the Admiralty could decide who to employ in a rapidly shrinking navy after the Napoleonic wars had ended in 1815. Although the information in some returns can be unreliable, as many officers supplied details from memory, they can provide useful clues in further tracing their services. The survey returns complied by commissioned officers in 1817, and 1846 are held by The National Archives in ADM 9 to which there are nominal indexes in the reading rooms.

Biographical works

Biographical and service details about Nelson and his fellow officers can also be found in standard reference biographical works such as the Dictionary of National Biography, The British Biographical Archive and specialist naval biographical sources such as Biographia Navalis by J.Charnock; A Naval Biographical Dictionary by W.R.O'Byrne; Marshall's Naval Biography by J.Marshall; The Commissioned Sea Officers of the Royal Navy, 1660-1815 by D.Syrett and R.L. Di Nardo; and Patrick Marione's The Complete Navy List of the Napoleonic Wars, 1793-1815, all of which are available in The National Archives' reference library, or our Reading Rooms.

Who researched it?

The contents of the "Trafalgar Ancestors" database were researched and compiled by Bruno Pappalardo, Naval Specialist at The National Archives. Bruno is the author of Tracing Your Naval Ancestors available from our online bookshop.