Ancestors Search – How the Gregorian and the Julian Calendar Affect Your Ancestors Search

During our ancestors search, we may sometimes forget that past societies may have not used the same calendar that we do today. For this reason, it’s important that when searching ancestors we understand the dating methods used in those times. Many older documents, especially those from mediaeval times, may have been dated in reference to a day of the week, a religious feast, or even the day and year of a monarch’s reign. As you can imagine, this can make it difficult to establish a timeline of your ancestor’s past. Let’s take a look at ancient date-keeping methods, and illuminate how knowing them can greatly assist you in your ancestors search.

Your Ancestors Search and the Julian Calendar

This calendar, introduced by Julius Caesar, was used in England and Wales right up until 1752. It’s possible that if your ancestors search leads you to one of those countries, you may encounter dates recorded using this method. The Julian Calendar has an interesting history; Caesar grew tired of the corrupt and inconsistent manner in which priests (who were designated with the duty of date-keeping) entered dates, and so moved to modernize the dating system. He based his revision on a 365 day year, and inserted an extra day every four years; the leap year, while each year had 12 months of 30 or 31 days. Sounds similar to our calendar I know, but notice that the twelve months all had 30 or 31 days. In our modern calendar, February only has 28! With Caesar’s method, the calendar was out 8 days every millennium.

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The Julian Calendar was further revised by the Roman Emperor Constantine, who introduced the seven day week. Unfortunately, he also put the keeping of the calendar back into the hands of the clergy, who were still attached to the old lunar calendar. The clergy though could not agree on how to calculate the lunar cycle, and thus the Julian Calendar was thrown into disarray. This led to further alterations which may affect your ancestors search today.

Your Ancestors Search and the Gregorian Calendar

By the beginning of the 16th century, the Julian Calendar was 10 days ahead of what it should have been. Now hopefully you begin to understand how these ancient systems may affect today’s ancestors search. It had already begun to annoy people of the day, and so Pope Gregory XIII pronounced more changes to remedy the faults. He did this by proclaiming October 5th of that year (1582) to actually be October 15th. This system was adopted by many European countries but not all. Those loyal to Rome such as Spain, Portugal and Italy, along with Catholic parts of Switzerland, Poland and Scotland did so, but protestant countries like England and Wales rejected it. This left half of Europe ahead of the rest, and by 1751, the Julian Calendar was 11 days out of synch with the Gregorian one. As you can see, this necessitates close inspection of any dates we encounter during an ancestors search that involves countries in Europe.

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Your Ancestors Search and Current Practices

Even today there are some differences when we write dates. In England they write the date as Day, Month, Year i.e. 04/09/09 would be September 4th, 2009. In America the date is written with the day and month reversed - 04/09/09 would mean the 9th of April, 2009. When constructing family history reports it is important to keep this in mind, especially when conducting an ancestors search in conjunction with researchers from other countries. A good rule of thumb when searching ancestors is to look for two weeks either side of an estimated date when searching birth certificates etc. This will insure that your ancestors search yields the most accurate results possible.

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