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Tracing Officers

As outlined in part 3 the Navy List is the starting point for finding out about an officer ancestor, but this will only give you the barest outline of his career. There are also seniority lists for the highest ranks (including admirals, captains and commanders) available at the PRO and else- where.

There are many potential sources for further information. The best are explained below. If you want to explore further you can find other lines of enquiry in Roger, Naval Records for Genealogists.

Officers' service registers, 1756-1966
Registers recording the naval careers of individual officers were begun in the mid-19th century. Retrospective entries were made going back to 1756, though these are not complete. The main body of the entries covers 1840-1920. Deaths are entered up until the 1950s. The information given varies from register to register but generally includes:

  • names of the ships on which each officer served
  • dates and places of births and deaths
  • dates and places of marriages and full names of brides

There is a collection of indexes to help you find your ancestor in these registers. Do not give up too easily if you cannot find your ancestor's name in the expected index as they are of variable reliability. You may also find entries for your ancestor in more than one register because different departments of the Admiralty compiled different registers.

There are also registers of confidential performance re- ports by commanding officers on captains and flag officers hoping to be promoted to the rank of admiral. These give real insight into the individual men.

Survey returns, 1817-51
The Admiralty conducted a series of surveys of officers, starting in 1817. The purpose of the surveys was to improve record keeping in order to gain a clearer picture of the state of the Navy after the conclusion of the Napoleonic wars in 1815. A range of surveys was conducted covering both commissioned officers and warrant officers. The collection of returns is far from complete because of the numbers of officers who never received their survey letters and the numbers who never replied. Indexes are available to parts of the survey collection.

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