Dates in Family History

Quarter Days

Legal documents often refer to ‘Quarter Days’. These were important dates in the religious calendar, and also often the dates on which rent was paid, or apprenticeships began.

Quarter days were ‘fixed’ dates – ie they fell on the same date in each year (in contrast to Easter, for example):

Lady Day:  25 March

Midsummer (also known as St John’s Day):  24 June

Michaelmas (also sometimes referred to as the Feast Of St Michael):  29 September

Christmas Day:  25 December.

Old/New Style Dating

This often seems to cause confusion, but is actually quite simple:

Before 1752, each year started, not on 1 January, but on Lady Day:  25 March. This is known as ‘Old Style’ dating.  In 1752 the style of dating officially changed, so that the start of the year was on 1 January. This is known as ‘New Style’ dating.

If you look at old parish registers, you will find that the earliest entry for – say – 1690 is a baptism in April , and the last entry for that year is for a baptism in early March.  And this is because of the way that the calendar was regarded.

In 1752, the system changed, and all that you have to remember is:

a) until 1751 the year ran from 25 March until 24 March – the last full year under this system ran from 25 March 1751 until the following 24 March (this was 24 March 1751 by the convention still in use, but 24 March 1752 as we would recognise the date today).

b) in 1752, the year was shortened; it ran from 25 March 1752 until 31 December 1752.

c) from 1753 onwards, the year began on 1 January  and ended on 31 December.

You may wonder why I think you may be interested in this.  There are three reasons in particular:

1) It is very easy to be led astray by ‘Old Style’ dating, and presume that the child who was buried in December 1700 is  the same child who was baptised in February 1700 (think about it…)

2) Some transcriptions of parish registers are exact as to the dating system then used, but others amend the date to the ‘new’ system:  this may be clear from the transcript, but try wherever possible to check against the original (which you should always do anyway…).

3) How are you going to deal with old style/new style dates in your records?  In a handwritten tree, you should refer to ‘Old Style’ dates between 1 January and 24 March by the convention of showing both years in the format 1743/4 (so that an event recorded as taking place on 25 January 1743 is shown in your tree as 25 January 1743/4); but if you use a family history software package, this option may not be open to you.  In this case, it is easier either to convert all dates to ‘New Style’ (and make a note on your tree that this is what you have done – and be consistent!) OR to make a note for each event stating that the date is Old Style.

Dating Conventions

And a final note on dates.  Please, please use the convention ‘Day/Month/Year’, using the name of the month and stating the year in full.  If you record a date as 01/04/37, fellow family historians will not have the faintest idea whether this means the first of April (as it does in the UK) or the fourth of January (as it does in the USA).  And they will not have the faintest idea which century you are talking about.  One of the great joys of family history is sharing information – finding that distant cousin who you can swap information with, to take your tree back further still.  Let’s make it easy for them – and hope they make it easy for us.

3 Responses to Dates in Family History

  1. Adina says:

    this was awsome!! i’ve been reading them for days now. and i will continue reading your other posts.

  2. Edgar says:

    useful post and i think it is rather easy to see from the other comments as well that this post is well written and useful.

  3. Carolina says:

    thank you very much for sharing all this great information with us! it’s definitely appreciated. well worth the time in reading!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *