Official records

It is important to stress that the service records of the Royal Navy and most Admiralty records are deposited with:

The National Archives

Ruskin Avenue
Surrey TW9 4DU
Tel: +44 (0)20 8876 3444

What you will find there:

  • Few centralised records of naval ratings (i.e. those who were not commissioned officers or warrant officers) were kept before 1853. In general you need to know the name of a seaman's ship in order to look him up. The muster roll or crew list should note where he was before and after his service in that ship, so you can track most people backwards and forwards from that point.
  • Records of Greenwich Seamen's Hospital and other hospitals; pensions and grants received; medals awarded, etc., up to the end of the 19th century.
  • Records of commissioned officers, warrant officers, tradesmen, etc. These begin in the 18th century but it should be noted that no real systematic service records for individual officers were attempted until 1840.

Resources in the Archive and Library

Lieutenant's logs

The lieutenant's logs were kept by the lieutenants of a ship in commission, recording details of weather, navigation and routine of the ship, as well as incidents that occurred during the commission. Printed formats appeared from about 1799, with the Admiralty laying down a standard form in October 1805 when the practice of starting the day's log at midnight to coincide with the civil calendar was begun (the nautical calendar had previously run from noon).

At the completion of each year, a lieutenant's log was required to be deposited in the Admiralty Office, where the chief clerk abstracted details of the voyage and, in return for a fee, sent the log to the Navy Office where a clerk in the off of the Clerk of the Acts made out a certificate entitling the Lieutenant to be paid. At the Navy Office individual logs were bound into volumes by ship name.

For a time in the 18th century the logs were collected by year as well as name, so logs of four or five ships (usually starting with the same letter) may be bound together. Any captain's logs that are bound with these logs are usually duplicates of those kept by The National Archives.


Reference numbers given in italics refer to the Museum's Library catalogue.

  • Steel's Navy List: editions spanning 1787–1816. Incomplete run, but printed as frequently as monthly. Lists officers, ships and establishments including officers of Sea Fencibles before 1810. Miscellaneous intelligence reports, vessels captured, prize money awards.
  • Lean's Navy List: editions spanning 1878–1916. Information on officers alphabetically and by seniority. Particularly valuable in providing dates of birth of officers in the majority of issues and in including short biographies of their service and decorations. Also gives lists of ships and establishments with serving officers.
  • Navy Lists: editions from 1814 to date. The amount of information shown in these lists changes with time but they record officers (retired and active) and ships, where ships were stationed, pay scales, uniform regulations, etc. They were published between one and twelve times a year at different periods. Copies are also held at the Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth.
  • Charnock, J., Biographia Navalis (London: R Foulder, 1794-98). 92.355.33.094*
  • Marshall, J., Royal Naval Biography, 12 volumes (London: Longman, 1823–30). 92.355.33*
  • O'Byrne, W. R., A Naval Biographical Dictionary, 2 volumes, (London, J Murray, 1849). 92.355.33(42)*
  • Rodger, N. A. M., Naval Records for Genealogists (London: HMSO,1988). A guide to all classes of records and where to find them. 930.253.4:359
  • Syrett, David, ed., The Commissioned Sea Officers of the Royal Navy, 1660–1815, (Aldershot: Scolar Press for Navy Records Society, 1994). This gives an alphabetical list of officers with known dates of promotion. An earlier facsimile copy (unpublished) of this work is available at the National Maritime Museum, annotated with the names of ships on which each officer is known to have served. 061.22NRS

* Many of the entries in these three sources have also been included in the British Biographical Index, edited by D Bank and A Esposito, published in microfiche with printed index by K G Saur, Sevenoaks, 1990.

Next steps

Other guides in the series which may be useful for researching the Royal Navy are:

For general research help see:

Although care has been taken in preparing the information contained in this document, anyone using it shall be deemed to indemnify the National Maritime Museum from any and all injury or damage arising from such use.

Last updated March 2024

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Tel: +44 (0)20 8858 4422