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Research & Resourses

The purpose of this information sheet is to provide guidance on tracing Royal Navy personnel. More detailed information can be found in the publication Tracing your Family History: Royal Navy - this can be purchased from the Imperial War Museum for £5.50. The Museum does not hold any personal service records or official documentation, but can help the enquirer as long as some basic facts are known. The Department of Printed Books welcomes visitors by appointment and is able to provide useful reading material and advice for finding out more about those who served. Other reference departments in the Museum - Art, Documents, Exhibits and Firearms, Film and Photograph Archives, and the Sound Archive - may also be able to assist.

Department of Printed Books,
Imperial War Museum,
Lambeth Road,
London SE16HZ

Tel: (+44) 020 7416 5342
Fax: (+44) 020 7416 5246
Web site:

Where to Find Royal Navy Service Records

The Imperial War Museum only covers the period from the First World War onwards. Most of the relevant records relating to naval genealogical research are either still held by Ministry of Defence agencies or The National Archives (formerly the Public Record Office). Genealogical enquiries to the various Ministry of Defence agencies must be made in writing, but do not receive priority as their principal
concern is to respond to official enquiries concerning welfare, pensions and other legal matters. The basic search fee, if levied, is currently £25.

Personnel records available to the public are now held by The National Archives, Ruskin Avenue, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 4DU
Tel: 020 8392 5200;
Web site:

Please note that The National Archives (TNA) does not undertake research on behalf of the public; it is necessary to either visit in person or employ a professional researcher, details of which are available direct from Readers' Services at TNA. For anyone intending to do their own research TNA has produced invaluable guides to their holdings; of particular importance are Tracing your Ancestors in the Public Record Office, 6th revised edition edited by Amanda Bevan (Richmond, Surrey: PRO, 2002), Naval Records for Genealogists by N.A.M. Rodger (Richmond, Surrey: PRO, 1998) and Tracing your Naval Ancestors by Bruno Pappalardo (Richmond, Surrey: PRO, 2003).

Pre-First World War service records, and ratings' personnel files and officers' records dating to 1923, are now held at TNA. For service records dating from 1924 to 1939 please write to the Ministry of Defence, Directorate of Personnel Support (Navy), (Hayes), Bourne Avenue, Hayes, Middlesex UB3 1RF (subsequently referred to as DPS Hayes).

For records of officers and ratings who saw service from 1939 (including 'Hostilities Only' service in the Second World War and Korea), write to

Directorate of Naval Pay and Pensions,
NPP(Acs)1E Centurion Building,
Grange Road,
PO13 9XA
(subsequently referred to as DNPP Gosport).
Tel. 023 9270 2174
Fax.023 9270 2211

For personnel whose records are still held at the MoD, enquiries must be sent in writing to the address, as given above. It is stated that they only accept enquiries from next-of-kin or first generation descendants and these record archives charge a search fee (£25).

Service records for officers of the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) and Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) for the First World War have now been transferred to TNA. Officers' records for the Second World War and Korea are held at DPS Hayes, thereafter at DNPP Gosport. Records of RNR ratings for the First World War are also at TNA, and Second World War records have recently been transferred there; later records are held at DNPP Gosport. Records of RNVR ratings for the First World War are at TNA, Second World War records are still held at DPS Hayes, while post- 1945 records are held at DNPP Gosport.

First World War Royal Naval Division records of service are now at TNA. Records of Royal Marines officers and men in service up to 1924 are at TNA. Subsequent records are still held by the Royal Marines Drafting and Record Office, Centurion Building, Grange Road, Gosport, Hampshire PO13 9XA.

Records of those who served in the Royal Naval Air Service can be found at TNA. Fleet Air Arm records are held at DNPP Gosport.
The National Archives holds the records for the Women's Royal Naval Service, 1917-1919. Records of WRNS who entered service before 1955 are at DPS Hayes, thereafter at DNPP Gosport.

Pre-1929 Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service records are held at TNA. Records of those who entered service up to 1956 are at DPS Hayes, with subsequent records at DNPP Gosport.

The careers of naval officers can be traced through the Navy List, a regular official publication. (No such listing exists for other ranks.) These contain seniority lists of all officers, cross referred to individual ships. A full set is held by TNA but the Department of Printed Books (DPB) holds a near complete run from 1914 to date.

Merchant Seamen's Records

News from The National Archives | May 2010

You can now search and download another 155,000 merchant seamen's records on The National Archives' DocumentsOnline service. The records list the recipients of the British War Medal and the Mercantile Marine Medal in the First World War.

Search the records now* to find out if your merchant seaman ancestor sailed through a danger zone and was awarded these medals.

If your ancestor was a merchant seaman, look at our handy research signposts - there's one for seamen who served before 1857, another for those who served between 1858 and 1917, and a third signpost for those serving after 1917.

Casualty Records
Casualty records are available for consultation at TNA. In addition, the:

Commonwealth War Graves Commission,
2 Marlow Road,
(Tel: 01628 507200; Web site:

The CWGC hold details of the burial place or commemoration site for all those who died in service during the period 1914-1921 and 1939-1947. A search fee may be levied but their web site provides free access to the Debt of Honour database. Details of naval personnel who were buried at sea are contained in memorial registers produced by the Commission. The DPB holds a complete set of memorial and cemetery registers, together with various operational and unit histories, some of which may make reference to casualties, and many published rolls of honour.

Details of service personnel buried in 'non-World War' graves are available from the

Ministry of Defence, NP-Sec2(b),
Room 222 Victory Building,
HM Naval Base,
Hampshire PO1 3LS.

Medal Records
Records of campaign and gallantry awards and available citations, for the period up to 1921, are lodged with TNA. For awards after that date write to the

Directorate of Naval Pay and Pensions,
Centurion Building,
Grange Road,
Hampshire PO13 9XA.

The National Archives holds a full set of the London Gazette, another good source of reference for awards and citations, complete with indexes. The London Gazette is also available on line at

However, please note that during the Second World War, publication of all citations for gallantry awards was suspended. For possible
information on these 'unpublished' citations write to the

Ministry of Defence,
Honours and Awards,
Room 115 Victory Building,
HM Naval Base, Portsmouth,
Hampshire PO1 3LS.

The Department of Printed Books holds published sources only, but recommends in particular the volume Seedie's Roll of Naval Honour and Awards, 1939-1959 compiled by B.C. Dickson (Tisbury, Wiltshire: Ripley Registers, 1989).

Other Sources

The Royal Navy produces a monthly newspaper/magazine the Navy News (Tel: 02392 826040; Web site: which carries a column for contacting and tracing ex-servicemen.

Details of other publications and other associations, which offer a similar service, are available from the DPB. Researchers will also find operational accounts, unit and ship histories held by the Department,
invaluable for background detail. Official documentation such as operational records,
unit diaries and ships' logs are now with TNA.

Once the recommended archives have been approached, researchers are welcome to forward their findings to the DPB for advice on other relevant works and addresses. The Printed Books Reading Room is open to the public, by prior appointment, from Monday to Saturday between 10.00am and 5.00pm.

Operational history - Ship movement records 1856-1914 & WW2 - Ship Photographs & Plans

Royal Naval Historical Branch
Ministry of Defence
24 Store
HM Naval Base
Hampshire PO1 3LU
Tel. 02392 724893

The Royal Naval Museum Library is situated within the Naval Base at Portsmouth, adjacent to the Historic Dockyard, in a purposely refurbished eighteenth century navy storehouse, with environmentally controlled bookstore, and reading room with space for 24 readers.

The Library was originally created in 1990 as a research library specializing in British naval history including: naval biographies; social history; operational history; navigation; naval architecture; naval science; ship movement records 1856-1914 & WW2.

In addition, the library also has access to all the collections of the Admiralty Library, which covers naval biographies; naval history; military history; naval science; technical and scientific works; naval law; medicine; gunnery; a large journal collection of British and foreign titles. Combined the collection consists of 150, 000 printed volumes and journals, covering all areas of British naval history.

Serial publications

The Royal Naval Museum Library holds a variety of serial publications.

London Gazettes from 1776 to 1986 and Navy Lists from 1797 are available for consultation in the Reading Room.

Other serial publications include: Admiralty Fleet Orders, Annual Register, Army & Navy Gazette, Gentleman’s Magazine, Illustrated London News, and Selected Parliamentary Papers amongst other standard serial publications relating to naval history.

Contact the Royal Naval Museum for further detailed information on the titles and runs held in the library,..

Information Service

The Library also runs the Museum’s Information Service and currently answers over 3500 enquiries each year from the large range of published materials available in the collection. The staff can also advise on alternative sources if the information sought cannot be located from the sources in the library. A range of information sheets, bibliographies and ship information is also available.


Telephone: Brief enquiries can be answered by telephone on 023 9272 3795 during advertised opening hours. A voice-mail system is in place for out of hours calls.

For postal enquiries write to:

Information Service,
Royal Naval Museum,
HM Naval Base (PP66)
Portsmouth PO1 3NH.

" Very important note for all enquirers - It is very important that you include full contact details, including a postal address and contact telephone number, when making an enquiry. Occasionally we experience technical difficulties which mean that our e-mails to enquirers are returned undelivered. If this happens, we are not able to send you the information you are seeking if we have no alternate contact details.

Fax enquiry number: 023 9272 3942

Important note: Enquiries are dealt with on a strict order of receipt. Standard response time is 3 - 4 working weeks, but this is subject to staff availability. They are not able to respond immediately to e-mail enquiries and are not able to send acknowledgements of receipt due to the high volume of enquiries they receive. For all enquiries, please ensure you give your postal address.

Current charges are as follows:
Enquiry research under 30 minutes: Free
Enquiry research over 30 minutes: £10 + VAT
Ship information (4 or more): £10 + VAT
Corporate: £45 +VAT
Additional Photocopying: 20p per sheet

Web site:

The National Maritime Museum have in their vast collection books and other related material. ship photographs and plans

National Maritime Museum,
Romney Road,
London SE10 9NF
Tel: 020 8858 4422
Web site:

Other useful links for research:

Royal Naval Patrol Service Association
Web site:
Email Mr Leo Whisstock (Secretary for the RNPSA, Lowestoft)

Royal Naval Patrol Service Veterans
Grimsby based RNPS veterans association. A slow to load web page, but the Harry Tates Navy web site has been Authorized to use all this information and this will be added very soon.
Web site:

Further related research information

World Naval Ships Forum
A well run friendly forum with a wealth of information posted on various topics on the war at sea.
Web site

Mariners List resource page
Web site
A very useful web site for researching all aspects of the Battle Of The Atlantic. The Allied section has a wealth of information on armed trawlers and there is also an excellently run forum

BBC WW2 Peoples War
A growing archive of wartime memories. Fascinating stories and a very useful resource for those interested in WW2 family history. Highly recommended.