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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military & Services  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).


Bringing Your Navy Ancestors to Life

Many sources are available in print and electronic form, with illustrations of uniforms, ships, and the way of life on land and sea. Examples include:

  • ŸShire books entitled Historic Ships and Ships’ Figureheads by Stammers, Old Docks by Ritchie-Noakes, Royal Dockyards by MacDougall, and The Victorian Sailor by Marcombe.
  • ŸThousands of books on maritime topics are available, and secondhand bookshops are replete with them. Descriptions and dates for ships can be found in such books as Ships of the Royal Navy by Colledge. The Navy Official List books starting in 1673 give ports of call for each ship each year. Hocking (Dictionary of Disasters at Sea, During the Age of Steam, Including Sailing Ships and Ships of War Lost in Action 1824-1962. ) lists disasters at sea 1824-1862, and Hurst (Baker’s Dozen. Family Tree Magazine Vol 13 #5, page 55-57) reviews some of the more useful ones for the family historian.
  • ŸThere are some very good children’s books with excellent, authentic illustrations, one I have is Sailors of the Great Sailing Ships by Abranson. Ÿ
  • Photographs of work being carried out in dockyards can be found in class ADM 195 at The National Archives (TNA).
  • ŸThere are huge numbers of locally written books for ports large and small giving valuable historical and maritime information, often collated by eminent 19th century men with maritime blood and time on their hands. They are worth digging out of local public and historical libraries. Ÿ
  • There are plenty of officers’ memoirs but not too many of ratings, for few were literate enough. Rodger (The Narrative of William Spavens a Chatham Pensioner by Himself, 1998) has edited that written by a navy rating who served during the mid-1700s, The Narrative of William Spavens which is an excellent period piece. Ÿ
  • Popular naval topics have plenty of source material, for example Swinnerton (Was Your Man at Trafalgar. Family Tree Magazine Vol 17 #4, page 6) reviews those available for the Battle of Trafalgar.
  • The Naval Chronicle was a monthy publication from 1799-1818, and an index to its births, marriage and death announcements as well as long-lived pensioners has been published by Hurst (Naval chronicle 1799-1818, index to Births, Marriages and Deaths. 1989)
  • ŸNewspapers of the day give detailed accounts of seafaring activities, wrecks and trade. In the General Advertiser dated Wednesday May 29, 1745 after the news of shipping arrivals and departures from Deal and London and progress of the army in Genoa, the bankrupts and marriages, and amongst the usual adverts for quack medicines and an announcement for the first performance of a New Musick by Mr. Handel entitled Belshazzar, are found three items of naval interest.

CHART: Naval Newspaper Advertisements

Admiralty Office, May 27, 1745
The Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty do hereby strictly direct such of the Petty Officers, and Foremast Men, late belonging to his Majesty’s Ship Hastings, who have not already entered on board his Majesty’s Ship the Scarborough, to repair immediately on board his Majesty’s Ship, Prince George at Blackstakes; on Pain not only of loosing the Remainder of their Wages for the Hastings, but of being apprehended by the Marshal of the Admiralty, and tried at a Court-Martial as Deserters.
Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich
27 May 1745

THE Directors of his Majesty’s Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich, hereby give Notice, that such Persons as are willing to Contract for supplying the said Hospital with BUTTER and CHEESE, may deliver in their Proposals seal’d up, to the Directors at Salters Hall, on Wednesday the 12th of June next, at Eleven in the Forenoon; and in the mean Time by applying to the Steward of the said Hospital at Greenwich, they may be informed of the Nature of the Service, and of all other Particulars relating thereto.

At LLOYD’s Coffee-House in Lombard Street,
Tomorrow, at Twelve o’Clock

SUNDRY Stores, viz. Anchors, Cables, Sails, Guns etc saved out of the Chatham, Capt. George
Long, Burthen 500 Tons upwards, lately lost on the Coast of Sussex.
Catalogues to be had at the Place of Sale, and of SAMUEL BROOKS, Broker.

Naval Museums and Libraries

All kinds of displays, records, artefacts, photographs and diaries are held by specialist naval museums and libraries such as:

  • ŸBritannia Royal Naval College Library at Dartmouth. Ÿ
  • Naval History Library at Plymouth.
  • ŸRoyal Naval Museum at Portsmouth. Ÿ
  • Royal Navy Submarine Museum at Gosport. Ÿ
  • National Maritime Museum at Greenwich with its Caird Library, whose contents include manuscripts, charts, prints, drawings, oil paintings, historic photographs, ship plans, and over 2 million artefacts and is described by Pethers, and with its catalogue on their website.


Several societies exist which are able to provide information or background material, examples are:

  • ŸThe Navy Records Society. Ÿ
  • Naval Historical Collectors and Research Association. Ÿ
  • Society for Nautical Research.
  • ŸLiverpool Nautical Research Society.
  • ŸWorld Ship Society holds photos of 53,000 ships and is a less expensive alternative for ship photographs than some of the Museums; please note that an SAE is definitely required as this is a voluntary organization.

Tombstones may reveal clues, such as that in St. Giles, Copmanthorpe, Yorkshire which states (Wood 2001-3):

Stephen Foster (formerly Gosport, Hants), Many years gunner of Somerset man-of-war and the oldest seaman in His Majesty’s Service, died March 17th 1808 in the 94th year of his age.

Other Naval Records

TNA has several leaflets on other types of records that they hold:

  • M32 Royal Navy: Log Books and Reports of Proceedings
  • M33 Royal Navy: Operational Records, First World War, 1914-1918
  • D34 Titanic
  • M35 Royal Navy: Operational Records 1660-1914
  • M36 Admiralty Charts (maps)
  • M38 Royal Naval Research and Development
  • M41 Royal Naval Dockyards M43 Ships Wrecked or Sunk
  • M69 Royal Navy: Operational Records

The Military and Mariner Miscellanea by Ross and Ross 1991 on 129 FHL fiches starting at fiche 6085342 contains a fascinating medley of information, well worth a lucky dip!


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military and Services offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.

  • This page was last modified on 6 September 2014, at 17:17.
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