Andrew Chapman tries to get his head around the nu­ances of the Julian and Gre­go­rian cal­en­dars

Your Family History - - Contents - By Andrew Chapman Andrew is ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor of Your Fam­ily His­tory, and runs his own pub­lish­ing ser­vices busi­ness. He has been writ­ing about fam­ily his­tory for over a decade.

Andrew Chapman looks at the nu­ances of the Julian and Gre­go­rian cal­en­dars.

The cur­rent is­sue of the SoG’s Ge­neal­o­gists’ Mag­a­zine (Vol 32 No 6) con­tains a fas­ci­nat­ing ar­ti­cle by Peter Maggs en­ti­tled ‘Con­fu­sion and myth in the Gre­go­rian cal­en­dar re­form’. I urge you to read it, although I will men­tion a few of its salient points here, as well as look­ing at the im­pli­ca­tions of cal­en­dar re­form in gen­eral for fam­ily his­to­ri­ans.

The tra­di­tional Julian cal­en­dar, named af­ter its pro­po­nent Julius Cae­sar, was adopted by the Ro­mans, and there­fore across Europe, in 45BC. It’s not as un­fa­mil­iar as one might imag­ine – in fact, the 12 months’ lengths were ex­actly the same as we use to­day. The main in­no­va­tion of Julian re­form was to add a leap day to Fe­bru­ary ev­ery four years.

How­ever, this was not enough to stop a grad­ual drift be­tween the hu­man­im­posed cal­en­dar and the wil­ful ways of na­ture: the Julian cal­en­dar ends up be­ing slightly too long for the so­lar year, to the tune of one day ev­ery 128 years. As the cen­turies, roll by, these things start to mat­ter, with the cal­en­dar adrift from im­por­tant events such as the equinoxes and sol­stices.

The Gre­go­rian cal­en­dar (named af­ter Pope Gre­gory XIII) pro­posed a fairly sim­ple ad­just­ment to this, namely that years evenly di­vis­i­ble by 100 are not leap years – un­less they are evenly di­vis­i­ble by 400. So 1900 was not a leap year – but the mil­len­nial year of 2000 (OK, let’s not get into the de­bate about the mil­len­nium ac­tu­ally be­ing in 2001) was. This ad­just­ment makes the av­er­age year length 365.2425 days, which is enough to mean the cal­en­dar only gains one day against the sun ev­ery 3030 years.

Cal­en­dar re­form came late to Bri­tain (and its colonies, in­clud­ing Amer­ica) – Gre­gory in­tro­duced his re­forms in 1582 (one can only imag­ine the bureaucracy in­volved) and they spread across much of Europe, such as France, Spain and Italy, straight away. But this was the reign of El­iz­a­beth I in Eng­land, and Catholic ideas were not wel­come. Bri­tain only joined Europe, as it were, as a con­se­quence of the Cal­en­dar (New Style) Act of 1750; the re­sult was that 2 Septem­ber 1752 segued into 14 Septem­ber to play catch-up.

As Peter Maggs points out, the sto­ries of ri­ots over the ‘lost’ 11 days are apoc­ryphal, sparked off by a satir­i­cal barb in a Hog­a­rth paint­ing. But there were cer­tainly com­pli­ca­tions to deal with. For ex­am­ple, peo­ple turn­ing 21 had to wait an ex­tra 11 days be­fore cel­e­brat­ing their ma­jor­ity. More com­pli­cat­edly, in 1752 New Year’s Day moved from the tra­di­tional 25 March to 1 Jan­uary, so we end up with the fol­low­ing: • 31 De­cem­ber 1750 was fol­lowed by 1

Jan­uary 1750 (as was tra­di­tional) • 24 March 1750 was fol­lowed by 25 March

1751 (ditto) • 31 De­cem­ber 1751 was fol­lowed by 1 Jan­uary 1752 (New Year re­form) Our mod­ern tax year from 6 April is a lin­ger­ing ves­tige of the old start to the year. Oh, and Scot­land had al­ready moved New Year to 1 Jan­uary back in 1600.

For fam­ily his­to­ri­ans, all of this can make re­search­ing the 18th cen­tury rather con­fus­ing. For ex­am­ple, Old Style dates can cre­ate sit­u­a­tions such as a baby be­ing born in Oc­to­ber 1740 and dy­ing in Jan­uary 1740, be­cause dates from 1 Jan­uary to 24 March in­clu­sive were part of the ‘year be­fore’, as it were. This also im­pli­ca­tions for as­sum­ing an ances­tor was il­le­git­i­mate, when in fact they were not. The rec­om­men­da­tion is to use ‘dou­ble dat­ing’, ie write dates from 1 Jan­uary un­til 24 March from 1582 to 1752 in both Old and New Style (OS/NS) form: eg 20 March 1649/50. You can find a use­ful cal­en­dar con­vert­ers on­line at www. four­mi­lab.ch/doc­u­ments/cal­en­dar/ and www. steve­morse.org/jcal/julian.html.

You may also want to check whether your ge­neal­ogy soft­ware can cope with dou­ble dat­ing: some GEDCOM in­ter­preters may parse a dou­ble date by read­ing in the first (Old Style) one. GEDCOM 5.5 has a pro­vi­sion for spec­i­fy­ing whether a date is Julian or Gre­go­rian, and in­deed for ‘date phrases’ where the dual in­for­ma­tion can be stored, but dif­fer­ent pack­ages may in­ter­pret that in dif­fer­ent ways (for ad­vice on Fam­ily His­to­rian, for ex­am­ple, see http:// bit. ly/2tTwqmi).

In­ci­den­tally, if you have Quaker an­ces­tors, they typ­i­cally in­di­cated months by a num­ber, with March the first month be­fore the 1752 re­forms and Jan­uary there­after.

If we’re in­clined to smirk at these his­tor­i­cal quirks, did you know that Day­light Sav­ing Time never ended in 1968? Bri­tain re­mained an hour ahead of GMT un­til 31 Oc­to­ber 1971. I was born on the first day of a month in this era, at half-past mid­night: so does this mean my birth­day is ac­tu­ally in the pre­vi­ous month?!

Mean­while, if you’d like a taste of life be­fore the Gre­go­rian re­forms, take a trip to the re­mote Scot­tish is­land of Foula, where the 30- odd in­hab­i­tants still keep a lit­tle of the Julian cal­en­dar, al­low­ing for the cur­rent 12- day dif­fer­ence from the Gre­go­rian. They cel­e­brate Christ­mas on 6 Jan­uary – and New Year on 13 Jan­uary.

‘Give us our eleven days’ – a de­tail from Wil­liam Hog­a­rth’s An Elec­tion En­ter­tain­ment

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