Navy/Maritime Records in Washington, DC
Today’s U. S. Navy began in the year 1798 when Congress established the Department of the Navy. We also have resources on the predecessor Continental Navy that fought in the American Revolution, and records during the brief period between 1785 when Congress disbanded the Continental Navy and 1798 when naval matters were handled by the War Department.
The National Archives Building in Washington, DC (Archives 1), houses select records of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs Service, Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation; and Shipping Board.
These records usually end prior to World War II, with some exceptions.
We house the following records of the U.S. Navy:
- Deck logs (pre-World War II)
- Muster rolls and crew lists
- Correspondence files
- Office of Naval Intelligence files
- Courts-martial files (which also document U.S. Marines)
Most records end prior to World War II.
Post-1940 Navy deck logs are housed at the National Archives at College Park.
U.S. Marine Corps:
We house pre-World War II records of the U.S. Marine Corps, including muster rolls and correspondence files.
We also house case files for enlisted men from 1798 to 1895.
Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation:
We house records of the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation, including:
- Correspondence files,
- Merchant vessel information files (official number files), and
- Seamen's protection certificates (limited).
U.S. Coast Guard:
We house records of the U.S. Coast Guard, including pre-World War II logs and muster rolls for the following:
- Life-Saving Service
- Revenue Cutter Service
- Coast Guard Cutter
- Coast Guard Station
- Lighthouse Station
We also house correspondence files for the U.S. Coast Guard and Lighthouse Service.
We have limited Coast Guard court-martial files. More recent files require screening for privacy.
U.S. Customs Service:
We house records of the U.S. Customs Service, including:
- Correspondence files,
- Seamen's protection certificates,
- Investigation files,
- Merchant ship information files (limited), and
- Customs case files (limited).
We house some correspondence and investigative files of the Shipping Board.
Commonly Requested Series:
Researching Merchant Vessels?
Researchers will need the following information:
- Name and tonnage of vessel
- Official number (if relevant)
- Home port
- Date and location of build
See Merchant Vessel Documentation for more information.
Record Group 19: Records of the Bureau of Ships
Record Group 24: Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel
Record Group 37: Records of the Hydrographic Office
Record Group 38: Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations
Record Group 45: Naval Records Collection and Library
Record Group 52: Records of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery
Record Group 71: Records of the Bureau of Yards and Docks
Record Group 72: Records of the Bureau of Aeronautics
Record Group 74: Records of the Bureau of Ordnance
Record Group 78: Records of the U.S. Naval Observatory
Record Group 80: General Records of the Department of the Navy
Record Group 125: Records of the Office of the Judge Advocate General (Navy/Marine Corps)
Record Group 127: Records of the U.S. Marine Corps
Record Group 181: Records of Naval Districts and Shore Establishments (Washington Navy Yard only)
Record Group 313: Records of Naval Operating Forces
Record Group 26: Records of the U.S. Coast Guard
Record Group 32: Records of the U.S. Shipping Board
Record Group 36: Records of the U.S. Customs Service
Record Group 41: Records of the Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation
Some records of the U.S. Coast Guard (Record Group 26) are restricted due to privacy laws. As such, staff must screen these records before researchers can view them or request copies.
We are not staffed to perform on-demand screening. Researchers interested in records that need to be screened must contact us at least two weeks in advance of an on-site visit. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The National Archives Catalog includes an "Access Restriction" note for each series of records. If a series has no access restrictions, then the note will state "unrestricted."
Some Navy/maritime records are available online through Ancestry, Fold3, and FamilySearch. These records include:
Rendezvous Reports/Enlistment Returns
Seaman’s Protection Certificates
National Archives Catalog
You can search the National Archives Catalog to find descriptions and digitized images of some Navy/maritime records.
Search the National Archives Catalog
Archives 1 does not house twentieth-century Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard personnel files.
- For personnel files older than 62 years, request these records from the National Archives at St. Louis.
- For personnel files more recent than 62 years, contact the National Personnel Records Center.
For World War II or later unit-level records for the U.S. Navy or U.S. Marine Corps:
- Contact the National Archives at College Park.