Tracing information about seaman before 1853 can be difficult. The most appropriate place to start will generally be pay books and musters for the individual ships on which the person served. These are held at the National Archives, and contain information such as age, place of birth, date of death etc. You will need the name of the ship the person served on and the dates of service.
Other sources available are pension applications, which include a certificate of service, or, records of death in service.
Service records for Royal Naval seamen who servedbetween 1853 and 1923 are held by The National Archives which has an online search facility to help you to find a record. Searches can be made by entering any, or all, of the following:
Date of Birth
Place of Birth
A small charge, currently £3.50, is made to download a PDF version of a record.
You will find some other useful guidance and information on the National Archives website:
The records of seamen who entered the Royal Navy after 1923 are not held by The National Archives.
For service between1928 and 1938, you should contact:
The Directorate of Personnel Support (Navy), Navy Search, TNT Archive Services, Tetron Point, William Nadin Way, Swadlincote, Derbyshire, DE11 0BB. Tel: 01283 227913 Fax: 01283 227942 email: email@example.com
The office controls all service records for the years approximately 1920 to at least 1939 which have not yet been passed to The National Archives (ie RN officers over 60; RN ratings enlisting 1924–1939; RNR officers 1920–1950; RNVR officers up to 1950; WRNS ratings enlisting 1939–1955; QARNNS 1923–1955 but excludes Royal Marines). Please note that information from this source can only be given to next of kin.
For service records for persons serving after 1938, you should contact:
Data Protection Cell (Navy), Victory View, Building 1/152, HM Naval Base, Portsmouth, PO1 3PX.
The service records of the Royal Marines and the Royal Naval Air Service after 1 April 1918 are available from National Archives Documents Online facility. The records of Royal Navy Nurses, the Coastguard service and the Merchant Navy are not in this collection.
The Ministry of Defence holds records of deceased Service Personnel, which have not yet been passed on to the National Archives. A search fee of £30 is currently charged for copies of the records, but a Spouse at the time of the deceased’s death can obtain a copy for free. In some circumstances, restrictions on the amount of information disclosed may apply. For full details on how to apply, etc., visit this page:
If you require a copy of your own service record, following service in the UK Armed Forces, you can apply for a copy from the Ministry of Defence under The Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA98) by completing a Subject Access Request (SAR). More information is available from this site:
Many details of Officer’s careers can be found in the Navy List, first issued in 1782 as Steel’s Navy List, and then published four times a year to the present day. From 1810, it lists all the ship’s of the Royal Navy, with the names and details of the Officers serving on them. Complete sets of the Navy List are held at the National Archives. Copies can often be obtained from specialist booksellers or eBay.
Records of Merchant Navy seaman and officers serving in the Second World War can be obtained fro:
Registry of Shipping & Seamen
Cardiff CF24 5JW
Telephone: +44 (0) 2920 448800