How to look for Royal Navy officers’ service records 1756-1931
How can I view the records covered in this guide?
What are these records?
These records, from series ADM 196, are the service records of officers who joined the Royal Navy between 1756 and 1931.
They include service records for commissioned officers joining the Navy up to 1917 and warrant officers joining up to 1931.
They also feature the records of Royal Marines officers commissioned between 1793 and 1925.
Commissioned officers included are:
- admirals (also known as flag officers)
Warrant officers included are:
- surgeons’ mates
- masters at arms
- ropemakers and coopers
- masters (pre-1808)
- surgeons (pre-1843)
- pursers (pre-1843)
- chaplains (pre-1843)
- engineers (pre-1847)
How do I search the records?
You can search the records in Discovery, our catalogue, by filling in the form below.
Searching is free, but there may be a charge to download documents.
What information do the records contain?
Until the late 19th century these service records tend to be very basic. The majority will contain:
- an officer’s first name
- an officer’s rank
- the names of the ships they served on
- the dates of entry and discharge from each ship and the total time served
- they may record an officer’s date of death
From the late 19th century onwards some will also contain:
- date and place of birth
- next of kin
It is possible for an officer to have multiple service records and in most of these instances we have joined them into one download.
What do the records look like?
These examples are taken from the service record of Sir Fleetwood Broughton Reynolds Pellew.
The first page, ADM 196/5, is an example of an early service record. It lists the various ships that Pellew served on and his rank during each service.
The second image is also part of Pellew’s service record, ADM 196/37. It lists his promotions, the date they took effect and various other details, including the fact that on 14 December 1852 Pellew hoisted his flag whilst on board Neptune at Portsmouth, and that on 6 February 1853 he was ordered to take his flag down. Lastly the record tells us that Pellew died on 28 July 1861.
Why can’t I find what I’m looking for?
If you cannot find a service record the explanation may be that:
- The officer died or left service before records were systematically kept from the 1840s
- The officer served with the Royal Naval Reserve or the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve
- You should be searching for a rating, not an officer; in this case, try Royal Navy ratings’ service records from 1853 to 1928 instead
- You are searching for an admiral but he is described as a flag officer, another name used for admirals
The record may be held in a different record series instead. Look at records of carpenters or boatswains who enlisted between 1848 and 1912 in ADM 29/114-115 and ADM 29/116-119. You can find records of engineers who served during 1839-1862 in ADM 29/105-111. Try browsing series ADM 104 for surgeons’ and assistant surgeons’ service records.
Try searching 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.