Each result will provide you with an image of the original record from The National Archives and a transcript of the vital information. The details of each transcript can vary depending on the amount of information recorded in the original document. You may find a combination of the following information:

  • Name
  • Sex
  • Birth year
  • Birth parish
  • Birth county
  • Birth country
  • Enlistment year – shown on the image as appearance date
  • Muster year
  • Muster date
  • Ship name
  • Location
  • Record type
  • Archive
  • Series and reference
  • Series description


The images will provide you with further detail about your ancestor such as the date, place, and reason for your ancestor’s discharge. Many of the muster rolls recorded your ancestor’s rank or rating. Often the ratings were abbreviated, for example AB was used for an able-bodied seaman. The ADM 38 series records are the most abundant of the three series represented in this collection for information about your ancestor. Almost every entry recorded a physical description of your ancestor, his marital status, whether or not he had been vaccinated for smallpox, and the names of previous ships your ancestor served on.

Discover more about these records

The muster rolls and a small number of pay lists found in British Royal Navy, Ships’ Musters are an excellent resource for anyone searching for an ancestor in the navy before 1853. Before 1853, men joined the navy on a short-term basis and did not permanently enlist. This meant that each sailor did not have his own service record. Permanent or continuous service in the Royal Navy began after 1853. In other cases, men were conscripted for short service or during times of war, and men serving on captured ships could be impressed into the navy and forced to work. The muster roll books of the Royal Navy recorded the names of every person present on board a ship. The books were kept on an 8-week basis. They were used for accounting and administrative reasons.

The original records are retained by The National Archives (TNA) in England. Before digitisation, you would have had to visit TNA and trawl through the numerous muster rolls to try to find your ancestor’s name. Now that Findmypast has digitised the records, you can search them easily by name, birth place, and ship name. The records are from TNA’s ADM 36, ADM 37, and ADM 38 series. The British Royal Navy, Ships’ Musters is not inclusive of every muster roll found within those series from the archives.

You can find the muster rolls for ships used during wars with France, Spain, and America, as well as those employed through the Napoleonic Wars. Some defended against the invasion of the ‘Young Pretender’, Charles Edward Stuart, in 1745, and others surrendered to the American forces at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781. You can also discover the muster roll from Lord Nelson’s *HMS Victory* from August to October of 1805, only weeks before the Royal Navy’s greatest achievement at the Battle of Trafalgar.

The records also include almost 1,000 entries for ‘Widow’s Men’. You can find these records by searching for Widow’s Men or Widow* in the keyword field. Widow’s men were listed on the ship’s muster roll to ensure that money was allocated for the widows of men who had died while in service. An act of Parliament allowed the cost of pay for one able-bodied seaman for every one hundred on board to be set aside for widows. This practice ended in 1823.