This research guide provides a general understanding of how to find information on US Navy personnel within the Naval History and Heritage Command and other government institutions. There are many resources available in the command; however, the information may be varied due to the era in which the resource was created. It is generally easier to research officers who served in the Navy than enlisted men and women.
Searching for a military member by name is often the easiest method of finding the information you seek. It is helpful to know the full name of the individual in question, their birth date, and the years in which they served.
Official Service and Medical Records - A good first step in locating information is to request the individual’s official service and medical records. This link provides further information on what these records contain and specifically how to request the records. You will need to request these records from the National Archives and Record Administration.
Register of the Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps - Officer Registers are annually published lists of Officers and Warrant Officers. The registers generally provide name, rank, and varied military service information. The older registers provide more detailed information and the Registers between the 1920s and 1970s provide Service Numbers, a key piece of information when requesting service records from this time period. The Navy Department Library holds the following US Naval Officer Registers.
Active Duty 1814 – 1994 in print
1995 – Present on CD-Rom
Reserve Register 1917- 1992 sporadic volumes
Retired Register 1962- 1990
Navy and Marine Corps Directories - Navy and Marine Corps Directories are similar to Officer Registers in that they provide lists of officers, however they also provide Officer location information. The Directories give information on the officer assignments, whether they are on a ship or at a shore establishment, and can also give squadron assignments for aviators. The Navy Department Library holds Directories from 1908 to 1942.
Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy - Several of the older Secretary of the Navy Reports contain lists of widowers and pensioners of the United Stated Navy. These provide no more than a name and how much the individual received.
Official Register of the United States - This is a listing of persons employed by the Federal Government, organized by branch, department, agency and office. In addition to civilians, commissioned officers are listed, but the information provided corresponds generally with what can be found in the Register of the Commissioned and Warrant Officers of the United States Navy and Marine Corps. This source is particularly valuable for identifying officers assigned as naval attaches. The Navy Department Library has a collection ranging from 1831 to 1959.
Callahan, Edward W., ed. List of Officers of the United States Navy and of the Marine Corps, 1775-1900. New York: L.R. Hammersly & Co, 1901. - This compiled work provides a starting point for progressive rank information for commissioned, warranted, and appointed officers in the Navy and Marine Corps for the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Hammersly, Lewis R. Records of Living Officers of the US Navy and Marine Corps Hammersly 1878-1902.7th edition. New York: L.R. Hammersly & Co, 1902.- This revised edition with numerous additions to the original contains short biographical entries for the living officers of the Navy and Marine Corps for the time period 1878 to 1902.
Biographies in Naval History - This digitized collection of brief biographies covers US Navy personalities of note throughout the history of the Navy.
ZB files - This series contains biographical information pertaining to US naval officers, a few enlisted, and some civilians, especially those serving during the 19th century. Coverage of a number of outstanding officers of the late 18th and early 20th centuries, as well as some enlisted personnel, also is provided. It is estimated that the careers of 35,000 separate individuals are documented to some extent in these files.
The contents of individual files include such items as:
(1) compiled service chronologies;
(2) biographical summaries;
(3) service data cards (Civil War period);
(4) letters of recommendation for appointment or promotion;
(5) pay vouchers (Civil War period);
(6) fragmentary personal and official letters;
(7) official Office of Naval Records and Library, and Naval History Division correspondence providing information on specific officers.
The contents of individual files range from extensive to sparse, sometimes only containing a single piece of paper. A listing of names in the ZB files is available in the Navy Department Library.
Modern Biography files - The Modern Biography collection consists of biographical information from the 1920s to the present pertaining to US naval officers, primarily Admirals and Captains, and prominent Navy affiliated civilians. The contents of individual files include official biographies written by the Office of Naval Information, Change of Command or Retirement programs from special events held on the Washington Navy Yard, and a few obituary notices from the Washington Post. A listing of names for the Modern Biography files in in the Navy Department Library is available. It should be noted that this collection derives from a considerably larger collection of officer biographies held by the Operational Archives of the Naval History and Heritage Command. The general rule for the division of the two collections is World War II, with the Navy Department Library having the older biographies and the Operational Archives having the more recent biographies. However, there is considerable temporal overlap between the two collections. Accordingly, if one collection does not have a biography, the other collection might.
Historical Manuscripts - The Navy Department Library has a historical manuscript collection consisting of original letters, documents, and manuscripts from the 18th to the 20th century. A full listing of the manuscript collection is available through this link.
Archives - The Archives of the Naval History and Heritage Command is the primary repository of the US Navy's official post-World War II operational and administrative history records. Along with these official records, they are a resource for Oral Histories and a collection of personal papers of prominent naval personalities. Below are links to information on Oral Histories and Personal Papers.
US Naval Academy Nimitz Library - The Special Collections and Archives division of the Nimitz Library also has a manuscript collection that includes the personal papers of a select few naval personalities.
JAG Court Martial records @ NARA or JAG - Court martial cases may be of particular interest to individuals. This link will provide information on who to contact for court martial records and board of review records.
Many of the resources in this section are described in greater detail in other sections of this guide; however it is helpful to know a general outline where records may be found by timeframe.
Early Navy to World War I
National Archives and Record Administration I - Official service records for Navy commissioned officers separated in or before 1902, and Navy enlisted personnel in or before 1885, are held by the National Archives and Records Administration at their Washington, DC, location. Of particular interest to those searching for US Navy records are Record Group 24 Bureau of Naval Personnel. You may also find an Abstract of Officer Service Records and the Records of Living Officers of the US Navy and Marine Corps 1870-1902 within these files. Many items are available on microfilm.
United States. Naval War Records Office.; United States. Office of Naval Records and Library. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. 31 vols. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1894-1922. - These 31 volumes are the official documents of the Union and Confederate Navies during the Civil War. They are available in print in many academic libraries and have been digitized as a part of the Making of America collection at Cornell University. Above is the link to the collection.
World War I
Some military documents may be found at the National Archives Washington, DC location, but personnel records for this timeframe are held at the National Personnel Record Center.
World War II
The National Archives College Park, Maryland location houses many of the documents related to World War II, such as deck logs and unit histories. Personnel Records are found at the National Personnel Record Center.
Korea and Vietnam
The National Archives College Park, Maryland location houses many of the documents related to Korea and Vietnam, such as deck logs and unit histories. Personnel Records are found at the National Personnel Record Center.
The Naval History and Heritage Command holds 30 years worth of documents, such as deck logs and unit histories. These are held as part of the Archives in the Ships' History, Deck Logs, and Aviation sections. Personnel Records are found at the National Personnel Record Center.
Navy World Wide Locator - The Navy World Wide Locator, maintained by Navy Personnel Command, maintains current address information for retired Navy service members. Information regarding this service may be found on the Navy Personnel Command website.
Searching for individuals by the office they held can be difficult; however the Navy Department Library offers resources both online and in print.
Lists of Senior Officers - This link provides historical rosters of high level US Navy offices. Both senior military officers and civilian officials are represented in the lists.
Organizational charts and Directories - Several Key Personnel charts for the Department of Defense and Navy Department are available both online and in the Navy Department Library. These charts date from the 1950s to the 1980s. They provide little more than a name and the office they occupied, but are a wealth of resources for organizational structure.
Fleet Admirals - Biographies of the US Navy’s four Fleet Admirals are available online along with information pertaining to the creation of the position.
United States. Official Register of the United States. Washington, 1831-1959.
Coletta, Paolo. American Secretaries of the Navy. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1980.
Love, Robert, ed. The Chiefs of Naval Operations. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1980.
Reynolds, Clark. Famous American Admirals. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1978.
Cogar, William. Dictionary of Admirals of the U.S. Navy. 2 vols. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1989. [covering the period from 1862-1918].
By School, Training, or Ship
Often you may find pictures of individuals in yearbooks or cruise books. Below is a listing of the resources available in the Navy Department Library.
Lucky Bags 1894-2005 - Lucky Bags are yearbooks from the US Naval Academy. These annual publications contain photos of the midshipmen and often a short description of their time at the academy.
US Naval Academy Alumni Register - The US Naval Academy Alumni Association published registers of alumni annually until 2008. Various years are held in the Navy Department Library. The Alumni Association website offers a locator service to members of their online community.
NROTC yearbooks - Many colleges and universities with NROTC training programs published yearbooks for their cadets. A complete description of the collection is available through this link.
Recruit Schools (The Keel, Bainbridge, The Anchor) - US Navy Enlisted Recruit Schools in Great Lakes, San Diego, and Bainbridge published yearbook type books for their recruits. They are arranged by year and company. A description of the collection and our holdings can be found in this link.
Cruise Books - Cruise books are a pictorial history documenting the daily life and voyages of a ship's crew. The Navy Department Library has a large collection of cruise books from the Spanish American War to the present. Use this link to determine if the library has a particular ship's cruise book, you may review our list of holdings and/or search the catalog (in the library). In addition to ships cruise books the library also holds many SeaBee unit cruise books as well as Aviation Squadron cruise books. These books are not available for purchase.
Crew List and Muster Rolls - This link provides further information on obtaining crew lists and muster rolls from ships.
By Award or Casualty Information
Searching for award or casualty information may be done through either online resources or in print resources. The military service records obtained through the National Personnel Records Center will also contain information on the awards earned by the individual.
U.S. Navy Awards - The U.S. Navy Awards website is a resource for both individual and unit awards. The website offers a Personal Awards History database that may be queried by name and either social security number for those who served after 1979 and serial or service number who served prior to 1979.
Medal of Honor - Full text citations of Medal of Honor recipients are available through the US Army Center of Military History. They are conveniently categorized by war or conflict, and the site also provides additional information on the Medal of Honor.
American Battle Monuments Commission - The American Battle Monuments Commission is charged with building and maintaining memorials and monuments to United States Armed Forces overseas. This website features a database that may be searched by name for those who lost their lives and are buried overseas from World War I to Vietnam.
Veterans Affairs Grave Locator - The United States Department of Veterans Affairs, Cemetery Administration offers a gravesite locator where you may search for the burial location of veterans and their family member in National VA cemeteries, state veteran’s cemeteries, various other military and Department of Interior cemeteries, and for veterans buried in private cemeteries when the grave is marked with a government grave marker.
Archives - The Naval History and Heritage Command Archives hold Award Citation Cards for individuals dating from World War II to the Vietnam conflict. The collection consists of copies of citations on index sized cards. They are filed alphabetically by name and categorized by war or conflict.
Combat Connected Naval Casualties World War II by States. 2 vols. Washington, DC: Department of the Navy, 1946. - Arranged by home state these volumes list name, rank and rate, home address, and next of kin.
Karig, Walter. Battle Report. Vols. 1-5. New York: Published for the Council on Books in Wartime by Farrar & Rinehart, 1944.
Vol. 1 Pearl Harbor to Coral Sea lists KIA, MIA, POW, recipients of Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Medal.
Vol. 2 Atlantic War lists Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, and Legion of Merit.
Vol. 3 Pacific War, 1942-1943 list of casualties.
Vol. 4 Pacific War, Dec 1943 - Nov 1944 list of casualties.
Vol. 5 War in Korea list of KIA,MIA, wounded. Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Air Medal, Bronze Star, Letter of Commendation, and Army Awards for Navy Personnel.
Stringer, Harry R. The Navy Book of Distinguished Service; An Official Compendium of the Names and Citations of the Men of the United States Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Foreign Governments Who Were Decorated by the Navy Department for Extraordinary Gallantry and Conspicuous Service Above and Beyond the Call of Duty in the World War. Washington, D.C.: Fassett publishing company, 1921.
Wise, James E. Jr., and Scott Baron. The Navy Cross: Extraordinary Heroism in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Conflicts. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2007.
_____. Silver Star: Navy and Marine Corps Gallantry in Iraq, Afghanistan and Other Conflicts. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2008.
Navy Casualty Listings, held in the Navy Department Library's Rare Book Room, list casualties from 1801 to 1941. They are categorized by types of death and year. These listings contain the names, rank, ship or shore station they were assigned upon death, and the location of the incident. Some volumes provide more details regarding the incidents.
The library also holds bound copies of excerpts from the hard copy World War II casualty cards held at the National Archives and Record Administration. These bound copies are categorized by Armed Guard casualties by operation and chronologic order, High-Speed Destroyer casualties, and Destroyer Escort casualties.
To locate information on the Civilian Personnel Records of those who may have worked for the US Navy you may contact the National Personnel Record Center.
Official Register of the United States - This is a listing of persons employed by the Federal Government, organized by branch, department, agency and office. The Navy Department Library has a collection ranging from 1831 to 1959.
In addition to this research guide you may wish to look at this guide to Research in Military Records from the National Archives and Record Administration as well as this guide from the Congressional Research Service, Military Service Records and Unit Histories: A Guide to Locating Sources.
Library of Congress Veteran’s History project - The Library of Congress Veteran’s History Project through the American Folklife Center collects first hand accounts of veterans from World War I to the present. The project offers a database that may be searched by name and seven other categories, including branch of service and war.
Ancestory.com - Ancestory.com is a commercial database that offers many resources for genealogical research. Among various records the databases include draft cards for World War I and World War II, and many US Navy cruise books are available on the website as well.
HomeofHeroes.com - Homeofheroes.com is another commercial website that includes information on military awards and lists of recipients.