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The Royal Navy can trace its origins to the 16th century. Often referred to as the Senior Service, it is the oldest service branch of the British Armed Forces. It was the most powerful navy in the world from the end of the 17th century until well into the 20th century, and played a central part in establishing the British Empire as the dominant world power.

The Royal Navy Seaman records contain the complete service histories of up to 375,000 ratings who joined up between 1899 and 1919. Our Royal Navy Officers’ records are held in a separate series which we are also publishing. The period covered takes in both the Boer war (1899-1902) and the World War 1 (1914-1918). It’s likely that anyone who enlisted in the Royal Navy during this period could have seen active service in one or both of these conflicts.