ROYAL NAVY RECORDS
Janet Dempsey takes us through Ancestry’s latest addition to its Royal Navy holdings and explains how it can help uncover the lives of your naval ancestors Many Admiralty records are of the ship rather than the individual
Researching an ancestor in the Royal Navy, particularly ‘ratings’ (non-officer ranks), for the early part of the 19th century can be very frustrating.
The Admiralty kept many of its records by the name of the ship and not by the individual, unless he was an officer. Each ship kept musters and pay books and it was these ledgers in which the ratings’ names were recorded. Therefore to be able to do any meaningful research it is necessary to know the names of at least some of the ships your ancestor served on.
Recently, Ancestry released another digitised series of records from The National Archives (TNA). This release consists of the series ADM 29 and is described on its website as “UK Naval Officer and Ratings Service Records 1802-1919”. However, the story behind this collection is much more complex than this title suggests.
Here we help you to understand the collection, what you may find in it, why you may not find your ancestor in there and also how to read and interpret the documents if you do find someone.
To understand the significance of these records it is important to know that in the first half of the 19th century, the Royal Navy hired its ratings on an almost voyage-by-voyage basis and while many men did manage to make a successful career in the Navy, because of the way they were administered there are no service records for individual ratings and service history must be pieced together from other sources.
ADM 29 is just one such source but it is a source that allows for much more far-reaching research, because it lists the ships a man served on. This makes it possible to find out where they served and sailed, the conditions they served under, how much they were paid and how provision was made for family left behind.
The series is actually made up of applications to the Royal Navy Pay Office for proof of service.
The first thing to point out is that it is actually in two parts – the first 96 ledgers in the series are records of the certificates of service issued to the applicant and are not strictly service records. They were created by the Navy Pay Office on behalf of individuals who had requested proof of service in order to support an application. Those for officers were compiled from the full and half pay registers, and for ratings from ships’ pay books. The applications these certificates supported could be for pension, for admission to Greenwich Hospital, for medals, for
Ancestry has recently uploaded a major collection of Royal Navy records to its website