Monday, July 17, 2006

Dates and Genealogy

Dates are so important, it's prudent to assign an approximate date to individuals with no dates. This is especially important when several individuals bear the same name. Using approximate dates simplifies searching. When there are many, or even two, individuals with the same name, an approximate date quickly helps determine which individual
could be the right ancestor. When making the approximation, take into consideration all dates pertaining to the individual's family. These family dates are clues to birth, marriage, and death dates.

All approximations should be marked with either brackets or something like bef, aft, or abt, which stand for before, after, and about. This marks these dates as approximations. Consider the family as a whole, not just as individuals. "Very often the relation of dates determine or negate the possibility of an alleged line of descent or provide clues that might otherwise elude detection." Taken from Genealogy as Pastime and Profession by Donald Lines Jacobus.

As an example, my husband's fmily had a tradition that Nancy A. Dalton was related to the Dalton Gang. Well, the Daltons did have a sister named Nancy A. Dalton, but she died before his grandfather, George Edwards, was born.

For some reason I always thought we had the same calendar throughout history. Well, I was wrong. I knew the Chinese currently use a different calendar, but for some reason I thought everyone else used the same calendar. Now, I know better.

The Julian calendar was used during the Middle Ages in Europe. By 1582 it was 10 days behind the actual date. In 1582 the Gregorian calendar, named after Pope Gregory XIII, became the calendar of Europe. However, England and her colonies didn't accept this calendar until an Act of Parliament in 1751. Ten days lost just by crossing the English Channel is unbelievable. Well, not really lost, but it must have been difficult to convert dates back and forth.

By 1752 the Julian calendar was 11 days behind the new calendar, so an Act of Parliament stipulated the 2nd of September 1752 would be followed by the 14th. In other words the 3rd of September 1752 became 14th of September 1752. People were very upset because they believed they lost 11 days out of their lives. Some even went so far as to change their birthdays so they wouldn’t seem 11 days older than they were. One example is George Washington. We all know he was born 22 February 1732. No, he was actually born 11 February 1731/32. This needs to be kept in mind when looking at birth dates of people born before 1752 and died after 1752.

For example, Ephraim Burr, by his gravestone, died 29 April 1776, aged 76 years and 13 days. Subtracting the age gives us 16 April 1700 for his birth date. To get the Old Style date we have to subtract 11 more days. His birth was not recorded but he was baptized 14 April 1700, 2 days before he was born using the New Style calendar. His birth date using Old Style is 5 April 1700.

New Year’s Day has always been the 1st of January, right? Wrong. Before 1752, the new year started on the 25th of March, or in some places, the 25th of December. The United States used only the 25th of March and the 1st of January. I'm grateful we don't have to worry about the 25th of December, too.

As long as the name of the month was used there is no real problem with the dates. May 5 is May 5 before and after 1752. However, if the number of the month was used, there could be a problem because before 1752 March was the first month of the year. March 25, 1750 would be 1/25/1750. As if it isn't hard enough to keep dates straight when ancestors have duplicate names. If your record says John Smith was born 3/15/1749, it means he was born May 15, 1749. If he was born 12/8/1732, his birth date would be January 27, 1732/1733. To make it even more confusing, someone may not know the dates changed, and wrote December 8, 1732 as 12/8/32. Now we wouldn't know his actual birth date, and need to check all the possibilities.

Check the introduction of your sources to determine if adjustments have already been made to accommodate calendar changes.

I hope I haven't completely confused you, but without this information you could be looking for the wrong birth date. It may be possible with this information to find that ancestor born before 1752 that has eluded us.

Dale L Edwards

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