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Royal Navy and Royal Marines Wills 1786-1882 : online and free during Covid-19 lockdown

Did your ancestor serve in the Royal Navy or Royal Marines between 1786 and 1882? If so, it is possible his last will and testament is online at the UK National Archives' ADM 48 collection.

The wills belong to naval warrant officers and ratings as well as Royal Marines' other ranks. They were written on standard forms and individuals only had to fill in the blank spaces.

Serving in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines could be a dangerous profession, particularly during war time. Many seamen therefore welcomed the opportunity to use the standard forms which enabled them to make provision for their families should they die in the service of their king or queen. Further, using standard form wills meant seamen of the lower orders avoided the cost of seeking professional legal assistance.

The Royal Navy encouraged their use and the Admiralty accepted the standard form wills as legitimate. As a result they were accepted for deposit and care at the Navy Office which in turn was instructed to issue cheques (or more likely promissory notes) to deceased seamen's executors if and when required.

Above: The beginning of John Smith's 1794 will while serving on HMS Hector. Courtesy of the UK National Archives.

The wills usually contain:

  • the man’s name;

  • date the will was made;

  • the man’s rank;

  • last ship on which he served;

  • details of his assets and effects;

  • the name (and sometimes the address) of the person who was to receive his effects in the event of his death (usually his next of kin);

  • the name (and sometimes the address and occupation) of his nominated Executor.

Downloading items from this collection usually incurs a fee. However, while the UK National Archives is still in lockdown, the fee is waived provided you are logged into your account. There is no charge for registering your account at the National Archives.

How do I access these records?

Searching the records is easy. All you need to do is:

  1. Click here to go to the correct landing page to search the database directly.

  2. Scroll down until you see the Keywords search box.

  3. Enter your ancestor's name using quotation marks, e.g. "John Smith".

  4. Click the Search button.

Quote FOFMPTL21to receive a 20% discount on a 12-month PRO subscription at

Free access to these records at the National Archives won't last forever, so I suggest you search them sooner rather than later before the lockdown restrictions ease in London (which I suspect won't be long now).

What next?

Once you've searched for your seaman ancestor's will at the National Archives, head over to Findmypast and search their extensive Royal Navy and Royal Marines record collections. Just search their All Record Sets for Britain using keywords Royal Navy or Royal Marines. See below for a sample search extract.

Click on your preferred record set from the right-hand panel. The next screen shows I chose British Royal Navy Allotment Declarations.

Then I searched for John Smith again for five years either side of 1790.

As you can see below, Findmypast has six records matching this search criteria. And they all have images attached.

I love to hear about your success. So if you find your ancestors in these records, let me know in the Comments Section at the end of this page.

In the meantime, happy ancestor hunting.


Your Family Genealogist


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