19 February 2017

Using regimental numbers in photographic research

I picked this photo up last week. The reverse shows it to have been taken by Henry Bown, "photographic artist" who had studios at 43 New Kent Road, south east London, 298 Clapham Road, south west London, and 31 & 33 Jamaica Road, south east London. At the top of the photo is some script which reads. "Nov 30 13. Len 16 yrs".

The photo clearly shows a boy bandsman wearing the collar badges of the Middlesex Regiment and so I thought I'd try and find out who Len was.

A boy could join the army from the age of 14 and so if Len was 16 years old in 1913 he could have joined from 1910 or 1911. Looking at my regimental numbers database, that would suggest that his number must have been within the approximate range L/13300 to L/14700. Assuming that Len went on to serve in the First World War I ran a search on the National Archives' medal index card database where "Leonard" was the first name, "Middlesex" was the regiment. I then ran different number search options to narrow the number range. This National Archives' search screen is far more efficient, and far quicker than the search screens on both Ancestry and Findmypast and what's more you can type in the search criteria in a single field, in any order and throw in wildcards to assist the search.

Running this search on L/13* and L/14* (and with searches for 13* and 14* as well, just to pick up examples where the L/ prefix had not been recorded) gave me a short-list of a dozen or so candidates and leads me to believe that Len is potentially L/13649 Leonard Alexander Watts from Poplar who attested for 12 years on the 6th July 1911 aged 14 years and 6 days. His parents were William and Ellen Watts and he had two older brothers and three younger brothers. It could be one of the older brothers who is in the photo with him.

I should stress that the photo could show the Watts family, but by the same token, there are still other candidates who need to be more fully investigated. Nevertheless, understanding how the regimental numbers were issued has, once again, narrowed the field considerably.

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