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Summary of Navy Records

At the Public Record Office, records are normally kept together according to the department which created them.

The vast majority of records which relate to the Navy are in the Admiralty or ADM lettercode. Within the lettercode each collection, or class, of records is assigned a separate class number. Thus, most navy widows' claims for back pay are to be found in class ADM 45. It is these class numbers which are referred to throughout this guide.

The tables in Part 2 gives a summary of the major types of record available. For a more comprehensive list see Roger, Naval Records for Genealogists.

Setting Out - Finding the basic facts
For your search of the naval records to be successful you need to gather as much information as possible about your ancestor. It is not generally sufficient to know only a vague date and that the Royal Navy was his profession. The surviving records about service in the Navy are fragmented and therefore difficult to search, especially those concerning service before the Continuous Service Engagement Act 1853.

You need to make a careful note of what you know, to take with you. Here are a few basic questions that can help you establish a starting point:

1. Can you find any reference to the name of a ship?

If you can match the name of a ship with a date when your ancestor could have been on it, you have a great starting point for your search.

2. Was your ancestor likely to have been an officer or a rating?

Some of the records for officers and ratings are separate and some are combined. There are also different types of records for different types of officers so it is helpful if you know your ancestor's type of service.

3. Was your ancestor's service likely to have been completed before 1853?

There were no centralised records kept for Royal Navy personnel before 1853. From 1 July 1853 details of every seaman were entered in the Continuous Service Engagement Books.

4. What area of the country did your ancestor come from?

Most important ports for the Royal Navy were clustered around the eastern and southern coasts of England. These ports were where most people went to , join the service, and men who lived locally to them were C the most likely to have been pressed into service. Seamen would often move away to other areas of the country if they wanted to avoid the press, or sometimes would move inland.

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