Sources of Biographical Information

One of the most common questions is "where can I find about my great-great-ancestor, who was in 'the navy' during World War One". Obviously, the exact answer will depend on exactly which navy he was in, his rank, and his fate. Certainly if your ancestor was a famous admiral or noted war hero, it will be easier to find information than if he were a common matelot. Beginning with two Commonwealth nations, here are a few starting points. This is one area where any suggestions and contributions would be very much appreciated! Just send e-mail to William Schleihauf

Royal Navy

The most important starting point is likely to be the Public Record Office. One very useful set of documents relate to casualties: the ADM 242 series. ADM 242/10 has been examined (listing those "other ranks" whose surnames began with 'R' to 'Z'), and among other things, it contains each individual's official number; ship or battalion; date he was killed; grave site; and the names and addresses of the people notified.

A related online source is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. This excellent (albeit slow!) site provides direct access to a database of all Commonwealth casualties buried in a cemetery with connections to the CWGC. It is worth remembering, however, that if the individual was lost at sea, then it is possible that there is no entry herein - although there may be mention of a memorial.

Other useful series in the PRO:

Fuller details may be found in the PRO leaflets.

A publication which provides a useful list (albeit with little other information) on the many archives within the United Kingdom is:
Record Repositories in Great Britain
Her Majesty's Stationary Office
(9th edition, revised, 1994)

Royal Canadian Navy

For Canadian sailors, the National Archives of Canada are a useful starting point. It must be noted that in the WW1 period, some Canadians enlisted directly into the Royal Navy, and thus the same sources that work for British personnel are worth investigating.

Royal Indian Marine // Royal Indian Navy

The following information was sent to MARHST-L in August 1999:
From: Dr. Andrew Cook (Andrew.Cook@MAIL.BL.UK)
Ian A Baxter, India Office Library and Records: A Brief Guide to Biographical Sources, 2nd edition
(London: The British Library, 1990).

Royal Indian Marine/Navy service records c1840-1947 are in India Office Records, series L/MIL/16/1-9. They include European/Eurasian clerks, engineers and seamen as well as officers. The first five volumes give each person's date and place of birth and they also record any previous service in the Bombay or Bengal Marine Departments.

For records of leave and duty pay to RIM/RIN officers 1886-1950 see the India Office Records series L/AG/20/11.

For records of service pensions paid to retired RIM/RIN officers in the UK 1886-1968, see the India Office Records series L/AG/20/13/37-45.

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Last Updated: 23 January, 2004.