Beginning Genealogy Lesson #5
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
"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.
DATES, DAYS AND MONTHS
"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
The Days of the
||Dydd Sul or
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
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.
In the ecclesiastical calendar, December was the tenth month,
hence the names:
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
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
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
For Further Reading:
About.com - Calendar
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."
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!
Your friend in genealogy