Tracing your Royal Navy Family History

This information covers individuals who served in the:

  • Royal Navy (RN). See The National Archives guides to commissioned officers, warrant officers and ratings up to 1928 and 1928 onwards.
  • Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) – professional seafarers who served with the Merchant Navy and who could be called to serve in the event of war. See The National Archives guide.
  • Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) – civilians who volunteered to train on shore-based establishments and then at sea, who could be called to serve in the event of war (pre-war this was comparable to the Territorial Army). Somethimes called the 'Wavy Navy' because of the pattern of officers rank braid. Most officers recruited during wartime were granted temporary commissions in the RNVR. See The National Archives guide.
  • Royal Marines (RM) – naval infantry troops who served at sea and on land. See The National Archives guide to officers and other ranks.
  • Royal Naval Division (RND) – during the First World War there were more recruits than were needed by the Navy and Army so they were formed into infantry brigades known as the Royal Naval Division. They served on land as soldiers. See The National Archives guide.
  • Fleet Air Arm – the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) merged with the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in April 1918 to become the Royal Air Force (RAF). See the guide to Tracing Your RFC/RAF Ancestry for further details. The Fleet Air Arm was formed on 1 April 1924 from RAF squadrons operating at sea. See The National Archives guide.

Shore establishments (naval bases on land) as well as ships use the prefix HMS (His or Her Majesty's Ship).

Personnel who served in the Second World War and subsequent conflicts may still be alive so their records remain confidential. This can make it difficult to trace an individual but a variety of sources can provide clues.

Download a copy of our guide to tracing your Royal Navy ancestry.