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Beginning Genealogy Lesson #5
Calendars & Dates

As you move back in time, you'll run across the fact that our ancestors changed calendaring methods. This was to handle the problem with the original Julian calendar, instituted by Julius Caesar in 46 BC.

"In the year numbered 1582 AD, Pope Gregory XIII issued an edict to reform the calendar in order to correct and reduce the accumulating errors. With the newer Gregorian calendar system, leap year was added, and the new year began in the month of January instead of March. \par \par The current year, 1996, is referred to as a "leap year" because we have inserted a "leap day" to make the length 366 days rather than the usual 365 days. The official name of the "leap day" is an intercalary day (with the accent on the second syllable)."  See: "The Gregorian Calendar and Leap Years" located at: http://www.as.wvu.edu/~jel/skywatch/skw9602a.htm 

Naturally because we're living in an imperfect world, different countries adopted the newer calendar at different times! For instance, the Gregorian calendar began on October 5, 1582, but was not adopted by Great Britain and the American colonies until September 14, 1752.

Here are excerpts of an excellent article from the editors of the Genealogy Forum Resource Area (America Online Keyword: roots) The tables go a long way to understanding the names of days of the week and month, when deciphering old foreign language based documents.


"It's difficult to understand other languages. Even the most rudimentary things like days and dates turn into a morass if you don't understand the language. It's even worse if calendars changed! We hope to offer a little help here. The following days of the weeks and months of the year may help you translate tombstones or documentary material:

The Days of the Week

Sunday sonntag nedele sondag Dydd Sul or
No Sull
dimanche domingo
Monday montag pondeli mondag llun lundi lunes
Tuesday deinstag utery tirsday mawrth/fawrth mardi martes
Wednesday mittwoch streda onsdag mercher/fercher mercredi miercoles
Thursday donnerstag stvertek torsday lau jeudi jueves
Friday freitag patek fredag gwener/wener vendrei viernes
Saturday samstag sobota lordag sadwrn samedi sabado

Welsh does not use Sun-day as in English. Sunday would be Dydd Sul. Sunday night (Sun-night) would be Nos Sul. One also has to watch for mutations in night references to Tues-night, Wednes-night, and Fri-night which become Nos Fawrth (instead of Mawrth), Nos Fercher (instead of Mercher), and Nos Wener ( instead of Gwener).

The Months of the Year

January januar leden januar Ionawr janvier enero
February februar unor februar Chefror devrier febrero
March maerz mars mars Mawrth mars marzo
April april duben april Ebrill avril abril
May mai keten mai Mai mai mayo
June juni cerven juni Mehefin juin junio
July juli cervenec juli Gorffennaf julliet julio
August august serpen august Awst aout agosto
September september zari september Medi septembre septiembre
October oktober rijen oktober Hydref octobre octubre
November november listopod novembre Tachwedd novembre noviembre
December dezember prosinec desember Rhagfyr decembre diciembre

NOTE: Notice the obvious influence of Latin, the "language of the church," on the days of the week and month, as in March, for the god of war, Mars.

Thoughts About Calendars

In the ecclesiastical calendar, December was the tenth month, hence the names:

September (Sept=7)
October (Octo=8), etc.

The "Old Style" calendar was in effect in the British Empire before 1752, when the present calendar was adopted. The historical calendar recognized January 1 as the first day of the year, while the ecclesiastical calendar recognized March 25 as the first day. Thus, dates between th o se two days were often written with both year numbers (e.g., January 5, 1712/13). Also, the old calendar was defective by 11 days, so when the switch was made to the new calendar on September 2, 1752 dates were often made compatible with it by adding 11 d ays. Folks went to bed September 2 and woke up the next day on September 13; there was much protest against the thought of losing 11 whole days out of one's life!

Example: Under the double-dating system, George Washington was born February 11, 1731/32 ("Old Style" or "O.S."). Adjusting this to the new calendar made it February 22, 1732 ("New Style" or "N.S."). The next time somebody bemoans the fact that we aren't really celebrating George Washington's birthday on the nearest assigned Monday (as decreed by Congress) tell 'em when George was actually born:

the 11th day of the 12th month of 1731
not the 22nd day of the 2nd month of 1732!

I hope this confusing topic doesn't throw you. I've included some excellent web site which explain the changes in calendars in more detail.

Astronomical Time Keeping

Gcal 2.10 - Genesis of the Gregorian Calendar

"The Gregorian Calendar and Leap Years" -- skw9602a

TransImage: Calendar/Other

The British Switch to the Gregorian Calendar

The Gregorian Calendar

The Gregorian Calendar

The basic concept is: Report the date exactly as written in a document.  

EXAMPLE:  In a church christening record the cover page lists the year 1579.  The entry for your ancestor says the christening took place on "the 6th day of the third month."  Don't assume its the 6th of March.  Type it out as the 6th day of the third month in the  year 1579 until you are able to convert it to the correct date of the correct month, depending on the country your ancestor lived in.

For Further Reading:

About.com - Calendar

Calculating Birth Year Based on Census http://www.wdbj.net/~wdbj/gen/birthyear/cenindx.html  

Interactive Calendar by Ian MacInnes, Albion College  http://www.albion.edu/english/calendar/  
"This site is intended to replace handbooks of dates for students of English history and literature.  It is also accurate for European history outside of England, with the exception of the period 1582-1752.  Includes Ecclesiastical Calendar, day of the week, old & new style dating & Regnal years."

Cumberland Family Software,  Universal Calendar Calculator http://www.cf-software.com/ucc.htm   Note: "The Universal Calendar Calculator can display and convert between 34 different calendars."

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt     :)
Your friend in genealogy 


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