First World War navy

This guide was last updated in 2009

Although researching WWI naval combatants can be a potentially enormous task, careful planning can yield fascinating results, says Jenny Thomas.

Most of us have a relative or ancestor who was involved in fighting the First World War.

For many of us, the enduring image of the War is the trenches, and the horrors suffered by the millions of men in the army as they went ‘over the top’. But the Navy saw plenty of action, too, and records of horrors and heroics, both individual and collective, are there to be uncovered.

When tracing individual ancestors, it is important distinguish between the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy, both of which were active during the War. There was traditionally much movement between these two branches, however, so it is worth searching both sets of records until you have found what you are looking for.

It is also useful to remember that different sets of records were created for officers and ratings, so you need to make sure that you are looking in the right place or covering all eventualities as you start to track down your seafaring ancestors. Here are some ideas as to how you might begin.

Photo © Getty Images

Tracing deserters
previous Step
The basics
next Step
We use cookies to improve your experience of our website. Cookies perform functions like recognising you each time you visit and delivering advertising messages that are relevant to you. Read more here