21 December 2016

Regimental numbers research tip - medal index cards

I'll try and keep this simple.

There are three resources where you can search First World War campaign medal index cards free of charge: Ancestry, Findmypast and The National Archives (TNA).

Ancestry has the best images but the lousiest, most inflexible search. If you are looking for a medal index card on Ancestry you will quickly realise that a) not all of the regimental numbers have been indexed and b) the actual search is not as flexible as it is on Findmypast or TNA. It is possible to just enter LONDON for instance, in the regiment field and see all results returned for the London Regiment. Similarly, if you were to just enter the number 1234 you would see all exact results plus this number with various prefixes: T/1234, MS/1234 etc. You can also use wildcard searching on Ancestry but you have to enter a minimum of three characters. So NIX* would return my surname (and variations) whereas NI* would return nothing.

It is also worth pointing out that the index to the medal index cards on the Ancestry site is Ancestry's own index and so there will be differences between search results here and on the other two sites. Talking of which, there are some real howlers on Ancestry that a good clean-up of data would improve no end.

But no doubt about it, the images on Ancestry are superb; both sides scanned, and scanned to a very high standard. It is no exaggeration to say that I look at these images daily.

You won't find images on Findmypast, and the index is the same index published on TNA's site. Locating the correct man will take you to the results' page which then offers the option to click through to the black and white image on TNA's site - which you'll need to pay £3.45 to view.

In terms of searching on Findmypast, be sure to use the wildcard. If you type LONDON in the regiment field on Findmypast you'll get just two results. However, typing *LONDON* will yield 198,000+ results. Always, always, always use the wildcard when searching on Findmypast - and unlike Ancestry, you can wildcard search on a single character if you wish.

Findmypast has recently clubbed all of its medal collections together under a single search and this certainly makes sense for most users of the service who won't always necessarily know what their ancestor's medal entitlement was. Furthermore, it is possible now to view a man's DCM medal card alongside his DCM citation. Note too, that Findmypast has a comprehensively indexed Military Medal card search.


In my opinion this is the most flexible and quickest search. The home page will invite you to type information in the relevant fields. And here, unlike on Findmypast, typing LONDON will bring up any regimental result which has the word London in the title.

However, the real beauty of the TNA search is the flexibility of the search from the search results' page (above). This is effectively a free search so gone is the need to type in information in specific fields. Simply type the information you want in the single search box. 

As far as I'm aware, it doesn't matter in which order you type the information, and the search results highlight where the information appears.

Use the TNA site to quickly find the card you want and then, armed with that information, view the image on Ancestry. You can view the images on TNA's site but these are inferior black and white images and only the front of the card has been imaged.

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