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The Problem of Dates

The Problem of Dates

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One of the problems in doing Early American research is the 1752 date switch. Prior to 1752, all of England and her colonies were using the Julian calendar to report ecclesiastical, legal, and civil events. In 1752, they all switched to the Gregorian calendar. In order to decently interpret dates prior to 1752, one must understand the difference inbetween the Julian and Gregorian calendars.

On the Julian calendar the very first day of the year was March 25. When the switch was made to the Gregorian calendar, January 1 became the very first day of the year. This gives us a problem when a date is written as 15th day, 7th mo., 1700. In 1700, the seventh month of the year was not July, it was September. So this date would be 15 September 1700. Many beginning researchers get trapped in the pitfall of recording the wrong month for such a date. Many times, when I have been doing research in various sources for a particular event, I have found a two month difference in the date. Right away, I know I’ve run into this problem of misinterpretation of dates.

Albeit March 25 was the beginning of the year prior to 1752 for ecclesiastical, legal, and civil purposes, since Norman times, January 1 was considered to be the beginning of the historical year. This gave rise to a dual dating system in some places — inbetween January 1 and March 25. If a person’s birth date was 25 February 1741, the date might be written 25 February 1741/42. This displayed that he was born 25 February 1741 under the Julian calendar, but in 1742 under the Gregorian calendar. Even after England and her colonies switched the Gregorian calendar in 1752, this dual dating system was continued by some colonial record keepers. This is confusing because some record keepers used dual dating and some didn’t, some continued it after 1752 and others didn’t. It’s very inconsistent and it helps to be aware of this.

Another pitfall is the Quaker dating system. Quakers abhorred the names of the months and days. Therefore, they never used them. Quaker dates will be numbers — with March being the very first month and Sunday the very first day. An example of a Quaker rendering of a date would be: the 4th day of the 2nd week of the 8th month 1699. This would be Wednesday of the 2nd week of October 1699. You will need a calendar for 1699 to figure out what day of the month this is.

Another thing you need to keep in mind is that what I have said above is in reference to England and her colonies only. Other countries switched calendars at different times. Holland, for example, switched to the Gregorian calendar in 1583. So, if you are doing Fresh Netherlands research, you will not run into this 1752 calendar switch. They were already on the Gregorian calendar long before they came to America.

One more thing — When the switch was made from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, eleven days were added. Sometimes a date was switched to reflect this and sometimes it was not. If you find someone who seemed to be baptized before his birth or whose intention was announced after his marriage, this could be the reason. Example: A person was born on March 1 and baptized on March Ten in 1752, the baptism date was not switched, the 11 days were added to the birth date, making it March 12. Now it shows up that the person was baptized two days before he was born.

There are many other things that could be said on this subject. I have only hit the highlights in order to make you aware of the problem. If you are doing colonial research, it would be a good idea to examine this subject in more depth.

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