There is a similar division between Royal Naval officers and other ranks ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ known as ratings ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ with an equally wide range of source material available for each.
Before 1853, naval ratings can be traced through musters and pay books, so you really need the name of the ship first ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ often a tricky task. Thereafter, service records were compiled, arranged by service number (which latterly reflected the role they were to play in the navy). There are surviving name indexes to the service registers, where you can find the names of all the ships that they served on, along with basic biographical data. Some pension records are also available. An even wider selection of records survive for naval officers. As well as service registers and pensions, there are separate pay registers, passing certificates, confidential reports and payments to widows, as well as the printed Navy Lists. Through these sources, it is possible to trace not only the service history of your ancestor, but also the ships on which they served, stations they were based and any naval engagements.
However, it is important to establish which branch of the Royal Navy they were with. For example, there are separate service ledgers for marines, as well as attestation forms, pension records and separate lists of births, marriages and deaths. Not all Royal Navy personnel were regulars ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ the Royal Naval Reserve and Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve were two pools of expert seamen who could be called upon in times of extreme need, such as the First World War.
Be equally careful not to confuse Royal Navy with Merchant Navy ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ separate sets of records survive from the 1850s for masters, mates and seamen who worked on commercial vessels, and often served on Royal Naval vessels on occasion, or saw action during a war.
The National Archives
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Imperial War Museum
Imperial War Museum, Duxford
National Army Museum
National Maritime Museum