Calendar confusion

3 years ago

In my last column I wrote about some of the issues you may run into when it comes to dating.  I discussed the various calendars and the days dropped from the calendar in 1582 in order to bring the human calendar into sync with the natural seasons. 

Dropping 11 days in the Gregorian Calendar or dropping 12 days in the Protestant English calendar led to notations such as 12/22 April 1702.  The writer of that date was using both the Julian (old style) calendar and the Gregorian calendar (new style).  The 12th of April was the old style and the 22nd was the new style, which accounted for the dropped days.

Just to make it more confusing, you may come across something such as 3/13 Feb 1695/6 as a vital record.  Again, this is using both old style and new style calendars; thus the event occurred on 3 Feb 1695, old style, or 13 Feb 1696 new style.

You can find these types of double dates in your research in the 17th and first half of the 18th centuries in this country and in Europe.   If you don’t know what they mean you can become confused — that is assuming you’re not already!

Another dating issue to be aware of is the different manner in which we write a date.  In the United States we write April 12, 1932 or 4/12/32.  In the United Kingdom you will find it written 12 April 1932 or 12/4/32.  Watch out for this, since not understanding the difference will mean you enter the wrong dates for your ancestral records.  

Other countries write or wrote the dates differently.  In Germany it would be 12 IV 1932, the day, month in Roman numerals, and then the year.  It’s a good idea to take a few minutes to search how things were written and the calendar the country ran under in what time period prior to your research.  

You may also come across regnal years.  In English wills, deeds, or other official documents the date is the number of years in the reign of the sovereign: “in the 18th year of our sovereign Lady Elizabeth, for example, or “the seventh year of the reign of King James.” In that case you need to find out the year Elizabeth I or James I came to the throne to determine the year the event you’re researching occurred.  There will be no other date given.

You already know that you’ll find B.C. (Before Christ) which is now shown as B.C.E., Before the Common Era.  We used to write A.D., Anno Domini, the year of the Lord, but now you’ll find C.E. which means the Common Era.  This was done to be inclusive of other religions and beliefs.

You don’t have to memorize all this, but you need to be aware that there were differences in the calendars used and in writing dates.  If you spot strange dates, try Googling for more information or Wikipedia.  It may slow you down, but it’s important.

Columnist Nancy Battick of Dover-Foxcroft has researched genealogy for over 30 years. She is past president of the Maine Genealogical Society, author of several genealogical articles and co-transcribed the Vital Records of Dover-Foxcroft.  Nancy holds an MA in History from UM and lives in DF with her husband, Jack, another avid genealogist. Reader emails are welcome at