Gregorian Calendar – The mystery of the missing 11 days. If you have ventured back in English and Welsh parish registers to the year 1752 you might have noticed that nothing seemed to have happen in your ancestral parishes between 2 September and 14 September 1752. No baptisms, no marriages and absolutely no burials. You might think that your village just was going through a peaceful, uneventful 11 days where they were too busy getting the harvest in to bother with baptisms and marriages and because everyone was out in the fresh air no-one got ill or died. If you have a really good imagination you might even have a picture in your mind of the harvest being brought into the barns by rosy cheeked men and women who celebrated with jugs of beers and a hearty lunch whilst they children played in the fields!
Well, I have news for you, it wasn’t that no one was baptised, got married or died – it was because the days between the 2 – 14 September didn’t exist, they simply vanished! Let me give you some background.
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Gregorian Calendar – Background
Up until September 1752 Britain and their American colonies followed the Julian Calendar, click here for more information about the Julian Calendar from Wikipedia. This made them out of step with most of Europe who had started to adopt the Gregorian Calendar from 1583. The Gregorian Calendar had come about because too many leap days had been added in the Julian Calendar, and as a result, Easter gradually moved out of alignment with the March equinox. Being out of step with Europe caused confusion with traders and merchants not to mention Easter and the British government decided that they would finally adopt the Gregorian Calendar which would mean that the 2nd September would be followed by the 14th September. Never let it be said that the British rush into anything, it had only taken 169 years for them to decide this wasn’t just a fad!
Gregorian Calendar – Implications for Genealogy
Prior to 1752 you may have noticed that the British and American years began on Lady Day which is the 25 March (Scotland had started to use 1st January as the beginning of the year in 1600) and ended on 24 March. Once the Gregorian Calendar was adopted the year began on 1st January and ran through until 31st December as we now are familiar with. In parish registers and other documents that genealogists use you will see that for a number of years after the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar that the cleric wrote dates which seem a little strange.
Any date between 1st January and the 25 March may be written for example – 15 February 1758/59 or you may see 15 February 1758 OS. The OS stands for Old Style and I, personally, suspect this was written when the Vicar writing the document didn’t approve of the adoption of what was after all an edict from the Catholic Church albeit one which was issued in 1582.
You may read suggestion that there were some protests and even riots against this change, but historians now think that that was purely a myth that has been embellished over time. There were however concerns about when rents, taxes and other payments would become due and this was addressed by a clause in the act of parliament that was passed to implement the change. Due dates were to take into account the eleven “lost” days and not before.
So when you are researching documents and parish registers before 1752 be aware that the beginning of the year wasn’t 1st January and also keep an eye out for double dates 1758/59. This may seems a minor matter, but can cause problems for instance if it appears a will was written some weeks after a person has died. Most genealogy computer programmes don’t allow for double dates and neither do online family trees at Ancestry or FindMyPast so I suggest that you alter a date if it is necessary to make sense of a sequence of events such as the example above, but make a note attached to the record stating that you have done so and writing out the date using the double date.
Gradually the double dating ceased and the dates we are all familiar with began to be the norm. This is probably a good time to suggest that when recording your genealogy always write a date out in full such as 3 September 1600 not 03.09.1600 as this can be interpreted as either 3 September 1600 or 9 March 1600 depending on which side of the Atlantic you are!
So keep a watch for the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar when you search documents such as parish registers as sometimes there are comments written in the margins which give an insight as to how some of our ancestors felt about the government altering the calendar and stealing 11 days from them!
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