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Dates and the Calendar

Dates are rather standard these days, but they weren't back in the olden days. Back the, in the 1700's, all sorts or intrigues and undercurrent were involved, and you need to know about them in order to be effective.

A. The Calendar

The Julian calendar was used throughout the Middle Ages in Europe. Its inaccuracy amounted to about three days in every four centuries. By the time the Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1582, the calendar dates were ahead of actual time by ten days. Had this situation been permitted to continue, in the course of centuries the present summer months would have come in the winter, etc.

The Roman Catholic countries adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1582, but the English and their colonies did not accept it until 1751. By that time, the calendar was ahead of actual time by 11 days. The Act of Parliament of 1751 provided a method to correct this, by leaving out 11 days in the next year. This is what happened:

Aug 1752 Monday 30 All One Week
Aug 1752 Tuesday 31
Sep 1752 Wednesday 1
Sep 1752 Thursday 2
Sep 1752 Friday 14
Sep 1752 Saturday 15

Naturally, this change of events upset the general population, but it did have the effect of reconciling calendar time with actual time.

This brought about the Old Style (OS) and New Style (NS) methods of writing dates. By Old Style (before 1752) a man was born, like George Washington, on 11 February. But by the New Style (after 1752), if he changed the date to conform to his actual age, he would have to add 11 days to his actual birthday, making his date of birth 22 February, the date he would have been born had the new calendar been in effect in 1732 (which is wasn't). This caused confusion enough, but that was not all.

B. New Year's Day

Another change was made in 1752, and that was the date of the beginning of the New Year. In America two dates were used. March 25th was the regular beginning of the New Year, while 1 January was the beginning of the legal year. This really only affected people like George Washington, who were born between 1 January and 24 March. This problem created double dates, which look like this: 11 Feb 1731/32. George Washington's birthday meant that the year was still 1731 if the new year was reckoned as not beginning until 25 March, but that the year was already 1732 if it began on 1 January. Obviously, the date 11 Feb 1731 (OS) is identical to 22 Feb 1732 (NS).

Occasionally a beginning genealogist will be upset over the fact that one of his ancestors was married in March 1725 and had a child in February 1725. As you can see now, that could be entirely legal and proper, had the new year begun on 25 March, for the parents would have married in the last part of 1724 and the child would have been born 11 months later, in February, when the year was still 1725. After 1752, the dates recorded are the actual dates. However, you should be aware of the confusion that did exist for a while in the 1700's.