Naval Records

By Ian Sewell

This article was published in the December 2014 edition of Soul Search, the Journal of The Sole Society

This is a write up of a talk Ian Sewell gave at the 2014 Annual Gathering.
Ian started by explaining that the number of men in the Navy, whilst large (during WW1 it was largest in the world and was bigger than the second and third largest navies put together), was far fewer than in the Army. So taking this into account it is more likely that an ancestor of yours served in the army.
However it is easier to trace a Naval ancestor using their Service Record Number. Unlike the Army where a regimental number often changed when a soldier changed regiment, in the Navy the Service Regiment Number remained the same throughout a man’s career as he moved from ship to ship. So once you have this number searching all the records becomes a lot easier.
For a Naval rating the record of service pre 1853 information is limited to ship musters books and any pension details which are to be found in ADM73 in Greenwich. From 1853-1923 records are held at the National Archive, Kew in ADM 139 (Engagement Books) and ADM 188 (register of seaman’s service) and are searchable online. The record includes date and place of birth, brief physical description, occupation in the Navy e.g. Shipwright, ships (or Naval bases) served on and character. Post 1923 details are stored by the MoD and are available on request.
For Warrant Officers the equivalent records are held in ADM 196 in Kew
Officers Service Records go from 1756 to 1966 and are held in ADM 196. Considerable detail of each officer is given.  For those serving between 1880 and 1960 more information may be found in Officers’ Service Records (ADM 340), and the Registers of Pensions and Allowances for officers, covers the period 1830-1934
The medal role for the Royal Navy is held in ADM 171 and covers 1866-1966 for all ranks. Depending on what ship and where they served would govern whether they were awarded the 1914/15 Star. Though service on a warship would allow the awarding of the Victory & War Medal.
For earlier records, ADM 36, covering 1688-1808 contains ship’s musters which list all those on board a ship. All those who fought at Trafalgar are listed on the Trafalgar database which is searchable online on the National Archives website.
The London Gazette lists medals awarded to sailors and The Times lists Naval promotions and appointments and findmypast has various indexes of Navy personnel.

Reporter: Rosemary Bailey