(NB: At the bottom of this page are links to some sites which proivide on-line lists of RN Officers for different years in the 19th Century)
By Martin Evans
The records of British RN personnel are held at 3 different locations,
depending primarily on the time when a person entered or served in the
Navy or an auxiliary service.
1. MoD. Ministry of Defence,
Middlesex UB3 1RF,
2. Centurion. Naval Pay & Pensions (Accounts),
Hampshire PO13 9XA
In both of the above archives, only written enquiries from next-of-kin
are accepted, and a search fee is charged. There is an ongoing process
of moving selected records from these locations to:
3. PRO. The Public Record Office,
Surrey TW9 4DU
Tel: +44 (0)181 876 3444
It is not possible to search PRO documents online, and the PRO does not
undertake research on behalf of individuals. To access the documents
held at the PRO one must either go there in person and obtain an
entrance ticket, or employ a professional researcher to do the work for
you. For more information on this, start at:
RN Officers. Pre-1914 at PRO, First and Second World Wars at MoD,
post-WW2 at HMS Centurion.
RN Ratings. Ratings who served in WW1 or before are at PRO, unless they
continued in service beyond 1929. The latter, plus those who entered
between 1924-1930 at MoD. Those who entered after these periods at HMS
Royal Naval Reserves (RNR). World War 1 records at MoD. Earlier records
at PRO, later ones at HMS Centurion.
Royal Naval Volunteer Reserves (RNVR). WW1 records are being transferred
from MoD to PRO. World War 2 records at MoD. Later records at HMS
Centurion (RNVR amalgamated with the RNR in 1958).
Royal Naval Division (RND). First World War (1914-16) records at MoD.
Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS). First World War records at PRO.
Records of women who entered between 1939-1955 at MoD. Later records at
Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service (QARNNS). First World War
records at PRO, WW2 records at MoD, later records at HMS Centurion.
This information about personnel records is based on data provided by
MoD, November 1998. Because some records are to be transferred from MoD
to PRO, the detailed situation is subject to change.
ROYAL NAVY MEDALS
A few rare medals are known to have been issued to senior Naval
commanders to commemorate special events in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The regular awarding of medals began with the Naval General Service
Medal. The 1793-1840 series was issued retrospectively in 1849 to
surviving qualified personnel in connection with Naval actions I this
period. This medal was again issued in 1915 and subsequently. There is
useful general information about Naval (and other) medals in:"British
Battles and Medals" by Major L.L. Gordon (Spink; London; 1947 and later
For information on medals awarded to RN personnel in recent years (1939
to the present time) write to
RN Medal Office,
Hampshire PO13 9XA
For information on medals awarded to all who entered the RN between
1924-1938 (inclusive), write to the Records Office at the MoD address
The records for earlier periods (generally before 1924; the cut-off date
varies with the class of medal) are archived at the PRO, mainly in the
EV Series under ADM 171/xxx. Refer to Rodger (see below) for further
This information on medals is based on data provided by the Armed Forces
Personnel Administration Agency, June 1999.
USING THE RECORDS
For personnel whose records are still held at the MoD and HMS Centurion,
enquiries must be sent in writing to the appropriate address, as given
above. In both cases, it is stated that they only accept enquiries from
next-of-kin or first generation descendants and these record archives
charge a search fee.
In the case of records held at the Public Record Office, the PRO will
not undertake to search for records. For serious research, they have
recently published a detailed guide to their records, to the ranks and
ratings in the RN at different periods, and to the various reserves and
auxiliary services in:
Naval Records for Genealogists, by N.A.M. Rodger. Public Record Office
Handbook No. 22 PRO Publications, Kew, 1998. ISBN 1 873 162 58 8
On-line help is also available from the PRO's own website. The PRO's
Records Information Leaflet No. 2 (Admiralty Records as Sources for
Biography and Genealogy) is accessible on-line. Go via:
Other leaflets about records of Royal Marines, Prisoners-of-War, Nurses,
Medals and Naval matters in general are listed at:
The Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts maintains a Register of
Archives. For a list of archives related to the armed services of
Britain, including Royal Navy archives, go to:
The Navy List is held at most large reference libraries, including the
National Maritime Museum's Library at Greenwich and the new Admiralty
Library section at the RN Museum at Portsmouth. It is a good way of
tracing an officer's career as each volume lists all officers' ranks and
ships. It has been published regularly since 1814.
The RN Museum at Portsmouth also holds in its archives the personal
papers of some individual officers and seamen.
Other multi-volume lists of RN officers include:
John Charnock: "Biographia Navalis", published in London 1794-98. This
early work only includes post-captains and higher ranks.
John Marshall: "Royal Naval Biography", published in London 1823-35.
"Memoirs of the services of all the flag-officers, superannuated
rear-admirals, retired-captains, post-captains and commanders, whose
names appeared on the Admiralty list of sea officers ..."
William R O'Byrne: "A Naval Biographical Dictionary", published in
London in 1849 and again in 1861. This included all the RN officers
discoverable by him, and his extensive working notes are archived at the
C G Pitcairn Jones: "The Commissioned Sea Officers of the Royal Navy
1660-1815" published by the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, 1979.
The NMM holds an annotated 12 volume set, with much unpublished data.
There are earlier works with this title, published at various times
since the 1950s, in collaboration with the Admiralty Library, in 1 or 3
volume sets with no author's name, but they are less comprehensive. The
collection of manuscript archives at the NMM occupies over 4 miles of
Contacting old shipmates: the monthly magazine "Navy News" regularly
publishes a page for Reunions, "Calling Old Shipmates" and other
requests for information. Write to:
The Editor, Navy News, Leviathan Block, HMS NELSON, Portsmouth,
Hampshire PO1 3HH, England. Tel: +44 (0)1705-294228.
Click here for an index to Royal Navy Officers 1827
Click here for an index to Royal Navy Flag Officers 1840 Part 1
Click here for an index to Royal Navy Flag Officers 1840 Part 2
Click here for an index to Royal Navy Officers 1894
For details of the Royal Navy ships of 1894 Click Here