There is a huge body of records available for searching to find an ancestor who was in the Navy.
Records exist by
rank and by ship, but there is no single index by name to help you locate your
ancestor easily. Unless you already know the ship on which your ancestor served
at a specific time you must be prepared to be tenacious in your searching. It
is the large number of fragmentary records that makes searching so difficult.
When you do find an ancestor, you will discover a wealth of detail evocative
of an adventurous life. You can find a record of what your ancestor looked like,
kept to identify him in case of death or desertion. You can also find which
ships he served on, where he went, and details of his career including punishments
Origins Of The Navy
The origins of the Navy lie in the merchant shipping of medieval England. The
king owned his own ships but could also call upon the merchant fleet as the
need arose. Successive kings granted trading privileges to a group of five ports
on the south coast, known as the Cinque Ports. Part of the turn on the privileges
was the ability to call upon them for help in defence of English maritime interests.
At this time, and for many years afterwards, it was possible to convert a ship
easily between trading and defensive use. This was done as the need arose, more
or less on the personal authority of the king, so there is a lack of structure
to the records, which makes searching them more difficult.