How to look for records of... Napoleonic wars and the war of 1812 – an overview
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
How many are online?
This guide provides a brief overview of records held at the National Archives for wars of the Napoleonic era. These are the records of central government, including all branches of the military. You’ll get a sense of the sort of records we hold and links to guides with more details and advice on how to find the records in our collection, including whether records are available online. As this is an overview of records guidance, much of the advice for finding records of the struggle against Napoleon can also be applied to the War of 1812.
How the records are arranged
The original records are arranged at The National Archives by the government departments that created them. Each department’s collection of records is identified by a department code. Four of the most significant for Napoleonic Wars research are:
- the War Office, which administered the British Army – department code WO
- the Admiralty, which administered the Royal Navy – department code ADM
- the Foreign Office, international relations – department code FO
- the Home Office, domestic matters – department code HO
Numerous other government departments have transferred records to The National Archives. You will find details for many of them in the guides which we provide links to below.
How to search for records
Before you begin a search you should see if there is a guide to the records you are looking for – this guide is designed to help you to do that. Each guide listed below contains the links and advice you will need to search a specific set of records.
Each guide will indicate whether records have been made available online (charges usually apply). The online copies are accessed either directly from our website or from the websites of our licensed partners, including Ancestry and Findmypast.
Some records have no online version and to see these you will need to consult them at our building in Kew or pay for copies to be made and sent to you. The search for records held at Kew begins by using keywords and dates to search our online catalogue. The catalogue contains short descriptions of the records and a document reference for each – you will need the document reference to see the record itself or to request copies.
For more guidance on searching or browsing our catalogue, visit our Discovery help pages.
Records of individuals
Individual service records did not exist at this period, instead surviving records of individuals are likely to be entries in registers such as muster lists or pay books, or documents kept for pension purposes. The research guides will tell you more.
For guidance on Royal Nay or Royal Marines personnel. See our guides to
- Royal Navy ratings up to 1913
- Royal Navy officers’ service records 1756-1931
- Royal Navy Commissioned and warrant officers further research
- Royal Navy Commissioned officers
- Royal Marines other ranks
- Royal Marines officers
For guidance on finding records of army or militia personnel, use our guides to
- British army soldiers up to 1913
- Muster rolls and pay lists
- British army officers up to 1913
Consult our guide to Prisoners of war in British hands for guidance on finding records of French and American prisoners.
Search the Trafalgar ancestors database for details of ratings who served in Nelson’s fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805.
Search or browse Captains’ letters in ADM 1 Admiralty Correspondence for letters relating to deserters and pressed men, including American seamen pressed on to British ships.
Operational records and maps
Operational records are the orders and correspondence of the War Office and Admiralty directing and recording the conduct of the war. Other records include private papers of officials or senior officers, maps, log books of ships or Admiral’s journals.
Consult our guide to Royal Navy operations and correspondence 1660-1914 for advice on finding Admiralty files and correspondence on naval actions against France and the United States of America. Our guide to Royal Navy ships’ voyages in log books gives guidance on finding log books of individual vessels and also Admiral’s journals.
Our guide to British army operations up to 1913, advises on finding records of military operations in various series of records and includes a section on Private papers of senior officers.
Our guides to Maps and plans, Overseas maps and plans and Sea charts give advice on finding maps in use at the time.
Government policy and strategy, international relations and the aftermath of the war
Foreign Office general correspondence
Browse our catalogue for general correspondence relating to France in FO 27, and the United States of America in FO 5. You will need to use the registers and indexes in FO 605 to access these series. For further guidance on using the registers see our guide to Foreign Office correspondence 1782-1890.
For guidance on finding treaties consult our guide to Foreign Office correspondence since 1782. Delegation archives of the conferences of Paris, 1814 and 1815, and the Congress of Vienna can be found in FO 139. Archives of the American Treaty of Ghent Commission can be found in FO 303.
CO 247 contains correspondence from St Helena covering the period of Napoleon’s imprisonment.
The Napoleonic Wars were a time of shortage and political unrest in Britain. The government feared political radicalism and revolutionary ideas and used spies and informers to gather intelligence. Home Office records of the time reflect this.
Search HO 42 Domestic correspondence George III for letters to the Home Office on various subjects including suspected spies, army and militia dispositions and supplies (partially catalogued, digital microfilm).
Search or browse HO 40 Home Office: Disturbances correspondence for letters regarding disturbances, such as riots, strikes and political meetings (digital microfilm).
Browse HO 100 for similar correspondence from Ireland.
HO 79 Private and Secret Entry books record letters relating to the secret service, postal censorship and other confidential matters. HO 33/1 is a bundle of correspondence between the Home Office and the Post Office on various matters, including intercepting letters of suspected radicals.
Prompted by high wartime grain prices and fears for the country’s ability to feed itself, the Home Secretary in 1801 requested a survey of arable land in England and Wales. Records are in HO 67 Parish acreage returns.
Search HO 69 Bouillon Papers – Between 1794 and 1815 Philip D’Auvergne, Prince de Bouillon, served as the Senior Naval Officer in Jersey and co-ordinated a French royalist intelligence network for the British government. He was also responsible for the distribution of money offered by the government to French emigres.
Records in other organisations and other resources
The National Archives’ catalogue contains collections and contact details of local archives around the UK and beyond. To locate these records, search our catalogue with keywords, such as invasion or militia, and refine your results to ‘Other archives’ using the filters.
Search for militia records held in other archives by selecting Advanced search in Discovery and the Record creators tab and searching using the term ‘Militia’.
Visit the National Army Museum website for more information on their collections.
Visit the Caird Library and Archive at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.
Visit the Archives Nationales or the US National Archives and Records Administration.
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