How to look for records of... Royal Navy ratings enlisted after 1918

How can I view the records covered in this guide?

How many are online?

  • Some

This is a short guide to records of Royal Navy ratings that enlisted and served after the First World War. Many of the records of ratings who served in the Second World War and all of the records for ratings that enlisted after 1928, are held by the Ministry of Defence. However, the records of ratings that enlisted with the Royal Navy in or before 1928 and went on to serve in the Second World War may be held at The National Archives.

A rating is the most junior class of seaman in the Royal Navy – below both commissioned officers and warrant officers in seniority.

How to get started

If you are looking for records of a seaman who enlisted in 1929 or later you should contact the Ministry of Defence for his records. For anyone that enlisted before 1929 you should try the registers of seamen’s services.

For details of where specific Royal Navy ships were operating during the Second World War and where and when ships were involved in combat, you should consult our guide to Royal Navy operations in the Second World War.

Online records

Registers of seamen’s services (enlisted 1853-1928)

For a Royal Navy rating who served after the First World War there may be a record among the registers of seamen’s services. The online records are for ratings that enlisted during or before 1928. Some of these ratings went on to serve into the 1950s and the online service records reflect this.

Search and download the Royal Navy Registers of seamen’s services for ratings , by name or official number, on our catalogue (£) within the series  ADM 188.

These registers of seamen’s services can include information such as:

  • date and place of birth
  • ships served on with dates
  • character and ability
  • medals awarded

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 roll (ADM 171) using (£). These rolls do not usually contain biographical information. Digital microfilm copies of these records are also available to download and browse from our website free of charge.

Records in other archives and organisations

Service records (1929-present)

If a rating joined in 1929 or after, visit the GOV.UK website for information about how to request a summary of a service record from the Ministry of Defence. These are available to next of kin and members of the general public on request to the MOD, provided the subject is no longer living. An administrative fee applies. Please note, these records are not available to view online.

Other resources


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

JJ Colledge and Ben Warlow, Ships of the Royal Navy: The Complete Record of all Fighting Ships of the Royal Navy from the 15th Century to the Present (Casemate Publishers, 2010)

Kenneth J Douglas-Morris, Naval Long Service Medals 1830-1990 (The Naval & Military Press, 2002)

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

Bruno Pappalardo, Using Navy Records: Public Record Office Pocket Guides to Family History (Public Record Office, 2001)

NAM Rodger, Naval Records for Genealogists: Public Record Office Handbooks, XXII (Public Record Office, 1998)