This is a brief guide to help you with your research into a birth, marriage or death in the British Army, Royal Air Force, Royal Marines or Royal Navy. There is no single place or collection where you can easily search for a birth, marriage or death in the armed forces, although many resources are available.
What do I need to know before I start?
Try to find out:
- the person’s name (and name of their parents, spouse or next of kin, where applicable)
- the approximate date of the birth, marriage or death, and the area where the event is likely to have taken place
- the armed force and, if applicable, regiment
What records can I see online?
Digitised copies of wills of Royal Naval Seamen (1786-1882)
Search and download (£) wills of Royal Naval and Royal Marines personnel.
Indexes to births, marriages and deaths in the armed forces (1761-1995)
Search indexes to the regimental registers, army chaplains’ registers, army returns and service departments registers in the military section on findmypast (£). The related certificates can be obtained from the General Register Office.
What records can I find at The National Archives at Kew?
Army registers of baptisms, marriages and burials in UK and overseas garrisons (1808-2007)
Browse Discovery, our catalogue, in record series WO 156 to see which garrison records are held by The National Archives. The registers are relatively few in number and mainly date from the 20th century.
RAF Chaplaincy Board registers of baptisms, confirmations, marriages and burials (1919-2009)
Browse our catalogue, in record series AIR 82 for registers of baptisms, confirmations, burials, and marriage (including banns) which were kept at various RAF stations in the British Isles and overseas. The records are searchable by name of RAF station/country and not by name of individual.
Royal Navy Chaplaincy records of baptisms, marriages and burials (1845-1998)
Browse in ADM 338 for registers of baptisms, marriages and burials by the Chaplain of the Fleet. These will mostly cover Royal Navy personnel but can also include civilians of any nationality.
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 (£).
What records can I find in other archives and organisations?
British Library birth, marriage and death records for the Indian subcontinent
Consult the Asia, Pacific and Africa Collection at the British Library for births or baptisms, marriages, and deaths or burials across the Indian subcontinent, including Burma and Aden.
What other resources will help me find information?
Search the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website for information about deaths in the First or Second World War.
Search for the will of a soldier who died while serving in the British armed forces between 1850 and 1986 on probatesearch.service.gov.uk.
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.
Audrey Collins and David Annal, Birth, marriage and death records (Pen and Sword, 2012)
Amanda Bevan, Tracing your ancestors in The National Archives (The National Archives, 2006)
CM Hobson, Airmen died in the Great War (JB Hayward & Son, 1995)
Bruno Pappalardo, Tracing your naval ancestors (The National Archives, 2003)
Did you know?
Most records of births in the armed forces are held by the General Register Office.
Regimental registers of births and baptisms start in 1761 in England and Wales and around 1790 in other countries, and continue to 1924. They include births in the United Kingdom and abroad. The indexes are arranged alphabetically and give a name, place, year and regiment.
Army chaplains’ registers (1796-1880) relate to births, marriages and deaths overseas. The index gives a name, place and date range of two to three years.
Army returns of births, marriages and deaths (1881-1955) include some Royal Air Force births from 1920 onwards.
Service departments registers of births and marriages (1956-1965) relate to army, navy and air force births and marriages abroad.
There is no casualty roll for the Royal Air Force outside of the First and Second World Wars, making some deaths difficult to trace. Some of these airmen were registered as deaths in the army or as civilian deaths, rather than as deaths in the Royal Air Force.