Naval Records for Family History. Do you have a sailor in your genealogy? If you answer yes then these records will be of great interest to you. Before we start to consider the various naval records for family history available online I should make sure that you do not confuse the Royal Navy with the Merchant Navy, the Royal Navy is a military navy and is part of the government’s defense force and the Merchant Navy is made up of civilian seaman who have do not have a military role, but have been called up in the past to assist in time of war. Both navies are made up of very brave men and women who we should honor and remember in our family histories.
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Ancestry has a wonderful range of naval records for family history in fact too many for one blog post so I have split this topic in two parts. FindMyPast also has a fine collection so I will write about their databases in a later post. There are so many great genealogy collections online now that deserve to be better known!
The record I describe in this post are all to be found on the Ancestry website..
Navy Lists, 1888-1970
The Navy List is the Royal Navy’s official publication of their officers names and details.
The Navy List was first published in 1814, during the reign of George III when Britain was involved in a number of military conflicts in Europe, Africa, Asia and not least America. At that time the Royal Navy was the most powerful navy in the world. It is a good starting point for researching the life of any naval ancestor who was an officer in the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Queen Alexandra’s Royal Nursing Service, Coast Guard, and other naval entities. the List’s are particularly helpful in tracing naval ancestors who might have been serving overseas at the time of the census and therefore not documented either at their homes or at the naval bases in England and Wales.
Whilst this database only covers 1888 – 1970 I think we can expect that the earlier Navy Lists will come online in the near future as an update to this database. Keep an eye on the MadAboutGenealogy regular Friday round up post about new record releases and updates.
Royal Navy and Royal Marine War Graves Roll, 1914-1919
This collection is an index only, the original Roll can be viewed at The National Archives, Kew, London (TNA), but as most of us can’t get to the TNA easily then this is a good secondary source. At the beginning of WW1 the Royal Navy was made up of 68 battleships, 103 cruisers and 190 torpedo craft. The Royal Navy and Royal Marines sustained great losses during the war and those who died are remembered in this Graves Roll. This database is an excellent start for research into naval ancestors who died during the Great War.
Royal Navy Medical Journals, 1817-1857
This database is of indexed images of the medical journals kept by medical officers aboard British Royal Navy Ships during the 1800’s. These journals include records of patients, treatments and the recovery or otherwise of crew, convicts and passengers during a voyage. Each of the 671 volumes are from a single ship and from a particular time frame so there will be a number of volumes for each vessel. The majority of this collection is of voyages to Australia and Tasmania (Van Diemen’s Land) transporting convicts and the return trip back to the UK.
This is an exception collection of records for those tracing convict ancestors and those who transported them to the other side of the world. As well as undertaking name searches I would recommend browsing the particular volume you find your ancestors in as they offer a glimpse of the life on-board which probably was not recorded anywhere else.
Naval Records for Family History – what do they contain?
U.K. Navy Lists, 1888-1970
Both commissioned and warrant officers are included in the lists and the following details can be expected to be found:-
- Decorations awarded
- Other details depending on rank
The List is divided into very many different sections such as Chief Carpenters, Clerk’s in H.M. Dockyards and Foreign Officers serving in H.M. Ships. Ancestors who had retired from the Navy and had pensions will also be named in the lists. There is a notice in the front of the book that informs those who are retired must send in annually between 1st January – 31st March a notification of still being alive otherwise they will be deemed as having died and be removed from the list!
In some years the list of officers included the names of those from overseas such as the New Zealand Branch of the Royal Naval Reserve and the South African Division of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. Those who were awarded the Royal Humane Society Medal for acts of bravery in the saving of human life and for effecting successful resuscitation are also listed. This medal is still awarded and details can be found at the society’s website.
I would advise using the surname search, but also browsing through the volume that your ancestors is named in as there is much background information to be had here. A good starting point is the Content Pages at the front of the book.
UK, Royal Navy and Royal Marine War Graves Roll, 1914-1919
Although just an index it contains a great deal of useful information such as
- Rating (occupation, rank, or classification)
- Branch of Service
- Cause of Death
- Date of Death
- Ship or Unit
- Theater of war
- Relative Notified
and where known
- Date and Place of Birth
- Location of Grave
- Name and Address of Cemetery
Royal Navy Medical Journals, 1817-1857
I find these journals fascinating and I don’t even have any naval ancestors ! I do have a couple of ancestors who were transported to Tasmania for breaking the law so when I am researching their lives I will be making good use of these records.
- Rank or status aboard
- Disease or injury
- Duration of illness
Naval Records for Family History – The National Archives Guides
The National Archives (TNA) based in London is where most of the original records for the Royal Navy are housed and as you would expect their experts have written a number of splendid guides which you can download and print off. There are in fact 27 guides for the Royal Navy covering officer and other ranks.
I can’t recommend them highly enough and it is well worth becoming familiar with where the guides are on the Discovery section of the TNA website. Click Here to access the Guides.
Naval Records for Family History – Summary
I am sure you will agree that the above records are a great addition to online sources for genealogy. I will cover the remainder of Ancestry’s Naval records in a later post and then we will take a look at what FindMyPast has on offer. I just wish I had a few Royal Navy ancestors, mine seem to be mainly in the army rather than the navy!
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