Book Review: Tracing Your Naval Ancestors – A Guide for Family Historians by Simon Fowler

Review of Tracing Your Naval Ancestors by Simon Fowler ISBN 978 1 84884 625 8

Tracing Your Naval Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians by Simon Fowler

Tracing Your Naval Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians. By Simon Fowler. Published by Pen & Sword Family History, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2AS, UK. www.pen-and-sword.co.uk. ₤12.99. US Distributor: Casemate Publishing, 1016 Warrior Road, Drexel Hill, PA 19026. www.casemateathena.com. US$24.95. Australian Distributor: Gould Genealogy & History, PO Box 119, St. Agnes SA 5097. www.gould.com.au. AUS$34.95. 2011. xi, 186 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover.

Even the author admits that researching a Royal Naval ancestor can be intimidating, especially in comparison to working with the records of the British Army or the Royal Air Force. Yet, Fowler provides a clear guide on how to use and access these records found in numerous repositories around the British Isles. The bulk of the records are found at The National Archives at Kew, and he recognizes that Tracing Your Naval Ancestors by Bruno Pappalardo will be needed to fully use this repository but it is the identification of resources in other locations, including the internet, that makes this a valuable addition for Royal Navy research.

The book begins by providing a short introduction on how to get started in your research, emphasizing which common generally utilized records may provide indications of a career in the Royal Navy. Records of officers and ratings can be located back to 1660, with a higher rate of success than is likely to be found with the land forces. The discussion for officers and ratings are different and thus separated into two chapters, yet these chapters appropriately cover the whole period up to 1914. A separate chapter addresses all levels of the service after 1914. Additional chapters address the: auxiliary services (of which there are many) and the coastguard; care of the sick and wounded; the Royal Marines; researching ships; and HM Dockyards. Appendices identify: the large number of different naval ratings, how they compare with one another as they existed in 1853; documents now held by the Fleet Air Arm Museum; how to access merchant navy records (since many Royal Navy personnel also served on these ships); jackspeak, the language of the navy; useful addresses; and bibliography.

There are many records to use for naval research, varying depending upon the time period. This book gets you into these voluminous records, explains well what they contain and is well illustrated. It is also up to date highlighting which records are online, and there are many.

This book would make a fine addition to a personal or genealogical library for anyone interested in Royal Naval ancestors, British military and any British Isles reference collection because of the sheer number of families with maritime ancestors.

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