Records of sailors can be found at state and local archives, the National Archives, and the National Personnel Records Center.
Of particular value to the researcher are the following:
Muster and Payrolls. Muster rolls usually provide the sailor’s name, ship, and service dates. Post-1860 records often give a personal description and data concerning discharge, desertion, or death. Payrolls give the sailor’s name, rank, enlistment date, and term of service. Muster and payrolls, 1798 to 1859, are arranged alphabetically by name of ship and then chronologically. These are found in Record Group 45, Naval Records Collection of the Office of Naval Records and Library at the National Archives.
Muster rolls of vessels, 1860 to 1900, are arranged chronologically in three separate series and then alphabetically by name of vessel. They are found in Record Group 24, Records of Naval Personnel at the National Archives.
Enlistment Records. Enlistment records usually give the sailor’s name, enlistment date and place, birthplace, age, occupation, and personal description. Enlistment records have not been microfilmed, but they are available at the National Archives. They include:
- Registers of Enlistments, 1845–54.
- Quarterly Returns of Enlistments of Vessels, 1866–91. 43 vols.
- Weekly Returns of Enlistments at Naval Rendezvous, 1855–91.
The Family History Library has an index to the above records:
Rendezvous Reports, before and after the Civil War, 1846–1861, 1865–1884. National Archives Microfilm Publication T1098. (FHL films 1570526–57.) Reports include the name, rendezvous, date of return or enlistment page, and record of service.
The weekly returns are also indexed in the following:
Index to Rendezvous Reports, Civil War, 1861–65. National Archives Microfilm Publication T1099. (FHL films 1570558–88.) The entries contain the sailor’s name, ship or place of rendezvous, and the date of enlistment.
To find specific microfilm numbers for the above two sources, look in the Locality search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
UNITED STATES - MILITARY RECORDS
Records of Officers
Abstracts of Service of Naval Officers (“Records of Officers”), 1798–1803. National Archives Microfilm Publication M330. (FHL films 1445969–87.) Alphabetically arranged by the first letter of the surname, then date of appointment. Entries list name, rank, date of naval assignments, and where assigned.
Abstracts of Service Records of Naval Officers (“Records of Officers”) and Related Name Index, 1829–1924 National Archives Microfilm Publication M1328. (FHL films 1579079–96.) These abstracts are indexed by the first letter of surname available on the first roll with volume and page references. The information includes birth date and place and chronological listing of naval service and death information.
Callahan, Edward W., ed. List of Officers of the Navy of the United States and of the Marine Corps from 1775 to 1900. 1901. Reprint, New York: Haskell House Publishers, 1969. (FHL book 973 M2ca; film 1036121 item 4.) Contains the names of officers of the Navy and Marine Corps from 1789 to January 1901 and lists name; assignment; date; and retirement date, if known. The document also contains a list of midshipman, acting midshipman, and naval cadets at the Naval Academy, 1840–1900, arranged alphabetically in annual classes by name, date, and status. It also contains an alphabetical list of vessels from 1797 to 1901.
Cogar, William B. Dictionary of Admirals of the U.S. Navy. 2 vols. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1989–90. (FHL book 973 D36cg.) Contains a brief sketch of service history of admirals.
Index to Officers’ Jackets, 1913–1925 (Officers Directory). National Archives Microfilm Publication T1102. (FHL films 1578411–12.) Location registers for personnel files. They are arranged by file number; name, rank, classification, location of files (as of 1948), and file number.
Case Files of Disapproved Pension Applications of Widows and Other Dependents of Civil War and Later Navy Veterans (Navy Widows Originals), 1861–1910. National Archives Microfilm Publication M1274. (FHL fiche 6333626–802.) These records are arranged by application number. Use the index below to get the application number. To find specific microfilm numbers, look in the Locality search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
UNITED STATES - MILITARY RECORDS - PENSIONS
Lists of Navy Veterans for Whom There are Navy Widows’ and Other Dependents’ Disapproved Pension Files (Navy Widows’ Originals, 1861–1910). National Archives Microfilm Publication M1391. (FHL fiche 6333805–19.) An alphabetical index to veterans and more pension files for sailors and officers of the Navy who were involved in the War of 1812, Mexican War, Civil War, and later conflicts. To find specific microfilm numbers, look in the Locality search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
UNITED STATES - MILITARY RECORDS - PENSIONS - INDEXES
Sources for Further Reading
Bacon, Lee D. “Civil War and Later Navy Personnel Records at the National Archives, 1864–1924.” Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives 27. (Summer 1995): 178–82. (FHL 973 B2p.)
Bacon, Lee D. “Early Naval Personnel Records at the National Archives, 1776–1860." Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives 27. (Spring 1995): 76–80. (FHL 973 B2p.)
Bauer, K. Jack, and Stephen S. Roberts. Register of Ships of the U.S. Navy, 1775–1990: Major Combatants. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991. (FHL 973 M2bau.) Contains the description and history of naval vessels. It also contains some photos of some more recent ships.
Bradley, Claudia, et. al., comp. List of Logbooks of U.S. Navy ships, Stations and Miscellaneous Units, 1801–1947. Special list no. 44. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Record’s Service, 1978. (FHL book 973 M3lo; film 1036253 item 7.) Arranged by name or ship designation, lists, number of logbooks, and dates covered.
Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. 8 vols. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1959–81. This has descriptions and pictures of U.S. Naval vessels. Selected entries of the dictionary are also available on the Internet at www.uss-salem.org/danfs/
Scott, Craig Roberts. “Naval Records in the National Archives.” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 79. (Sept. 1991): 207–17. (FHL book 973 B2ng.)