How to look for records of... Royal Navy commissioned officers

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • Some

This is a brief guide to researching Royal Naval records for a commissioned officer. While many records are available at The National Archives, some service records are currently held by the Ministry of Defence.

If you are looking for mentions of officers in records before 1649, read State papers domestic 1547-1649 for guidance.

What do I need to know before I start?

A commissioned officer was someone who became an officer by being awarded a royal commission, usually after passing an examination. They are different and senior in rank to warrant officers.

Commissioned officers ranks include Admiral of the Fleet, Admiral, Vice-Admiral, Rear-Admiral, Commodore, Captain, Commander, Lieutenant-Commander, Lieutenant, and Sub-Lieutenant.

Records for commissioned officers in the Royal Navy before about 1845 are incomplete and patchy.

Online records

Service records (1756-1917)

Search Royal Naval Officers’ service records on our website (ADM 196) by name for a commissioned officer who entered the Royal Navy between 1756 and 1917. The records for the 18th and early 19th centuries are sparse but for the later period almost all of the available service records are accessible in this online collection.

Service records for officers joining after May 1917 are held by the Ministry of Defence (see below).

Naval officers’ service record cards and files (c1880-1950s)

Search Naval officers’ service record cards and files online (ADM 340/1-150) by name for commissioned officers serving in the Royal Navy between c1880 and the 1950s. To view ADM 340/151-456 visit The National Archives at Kew.

Medal rolls (1793-1972)

Search by name for information about the award of campaign, long service and good conduct medals in the Royal Navy medal rolls (ADM 171) using (£). These rolls do not usually contain biographical information. Digital microfilm copies of these records are also available to download from our website and browse free of charge.

Index of naval officers who died between 1914 and 1920

Search the card index of naval officers killed 1914-1920 (ADM 242/1-5), including some officers of the Royal Marines and Naval Reserve, and of the Canadian and Australian navies, among the records of maritime deaths on findmypast (£).

Royal Navy First World War Lives at Sea database

Search the Royal Navy First World War Lives at Sea database by name, service number and numerous other criteria. As of October 2016, the database contained 3,500 records and is continually being updated. By November 2018, the expected completion date, it will contain information relating to all the Royal Navy officers and ratings that served in the First World War. The database is being compiled largely from records held at The National Archives and there is no charge for access. It is a joint project between The National Archives, The National Maritime Museum and the Crew List Index Project with the help of a global team of volunteers.

Records available only at The National Archives in Kew

To access these records you will either need to visit us, pay for research (£) or, where you can identify a specific record reference, order a copy (£).

Battle of Trafalgar (1805)

Search the Trafalgar ancestors database by name for a British officer who served in the Battle of Trafalgar.

Records in other archives and organisations

Service records (1917-present)

Visit the GOV.UK website for information about how to request a summary of a service record for a Royal Navy officer who joined the service after May 1917 from the Ministry of Defence. These are not available to members of the general public, though next of kin may request access to them.

Other resources

Navy Lists

Consult the published Navy Lists (a set of which is available at The National Archives at Kew) to follow an officer’s career. Navy lists contain seniority lists of officers and the ships to which each officer was assigned

Other books

Search The National Archives’ bookshop to see whether any of the publications below may be available to buy. Alternatively, look in The National Archives’ library catalogue to see what is available to consult at Kew.

Bruno Pappalardo, Tracing Your Naval Ancestors (The National Archives, 2003)

Bruno Pappalardo, Royal Navy Lieutenants’ Passing Certificates, 1691-1902 (List and Index Society, volumes 289-290)


Search The Commissioned Sea Officers of the Royal Navy on Ancestry (£).