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

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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.

Hir­ing rat­ings

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

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