Happy New Year! Here’s hoping that 2015 brings you much success in your family research. The New Year brings to mind the subject of the Julian and Gregorian calendars and how they factor into family research. If you have not encountered the issue yet in your research, here is some background for you.The Julian calendar (introduced by Julius Caesar) was used by most countries, at least European ones, for centuries, but because the calendar was losing about 11 minutes a year (as compared to an actual solar year), or one day about every 128 years, it was considered flawed. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian calendar (obviously named after him) to resolve some of the Julian calendar problems. The general rule is most Catholic countries/regions accepted the new calendar, while others, usually non-Catholic ones, took longer to adopt it, and so there was no universal and simultaneous change in the system of keeping dates. A listing of when various countries adapted the Gregorian calendar can be found at: http://www.tondering.dk/claus/cal/gregorian.php.
Aside from the shift in time of the days of the year, another difference between the two calendars is when New Year’s Day is celebrated. The Julian calendar considered March 25 as the beginning of the New Year; the Gregorian calendar changed that to January 1. A common example of how the calendars factor into genealogy is the birthdate of our first president George Washington. He was born in Virginia (an English colony) during a time period when the Julian calendar was still being used in Great Britain. At the time, his birthdate was recorded as February 11, 1731. In 1752, however, Britain and all its colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar, which moved Washington’s Birthday a year (the change in New Year’s Day) plus 11 days (the time slippage due to the Julian inaccuracy) to February 22, 1732.
Sometimes when you come across a civil record you might see the calendar differences noted. This often happens in biographical entries for George Washington. A related issue that comes up in genealogy is when civil and church record dates conflict. Sometimes researchers unaware of the calendar change mistakenly think an ancestor was baptized before he was born, or that bans were published after a marriage took place. Such discrepancies can sometimes be explained by one date having been recorded by the Julian system and the other by the Gregorian. This is because civil registration dates might have been revised after the change over, but the church records were left in the old system. You can understand why calendars are something worth keeping in mind when doing genealogy especially in the 16th through the 18th centuries.