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Article posted: May 15, 1998
Calendars & Genealogy
By: Ryan Taylor, Biography and Archived Articles
A genealogist I know recently received a photocopied document from Alsace. It dated from the earliest years of the ninteenth century, when the effects of the French Revolution were still felt in France. On one of these was the new system of dating. her ancestor was born on the eighth day of the third decade of Brumaire, year ten.
Naturally, she wanted to convert this to our Gregorian calendar. Where could she turn?
The Book of Calendars is a reference tool which every researcher should know. You may not want to own one, but be familiar with it's spot in your public library.
The Book of Calendars contains information and examples on calendars ancient and modern , including those used in Babylon, Tyre, the Egypt of the Pharoahs and Tibet. These are interesting but you may not need them.
At the back of the book is a large section which you will want to refer to time and again. There is an explanation of the French Revolutionary calendar. It does not include an easy chart for conversion, but enough information for you to do the calculation yoourself.
In addition there are perpetual Gregorian calendars, lists of when Easter falls, the church year and information on the Julian calendar. All of these have significance for genealogists.
If you want to determine what day of the week a family event occurred, you use a perpetual calendar. There are only a limited number of variations in a year. All are given, with a chart telling you which example corresponds to which year. All are given, with the chart telling you which example corresponds to which year.
Many old church records will refer to an event taking place on a particular day in the ecclesiastical year. Since church happenings were at the center of everyone's life, the church year was the basis for organisation. In England rents, taxes, employment and the payment of annuities all took place on the four quarter days; Lady Day (Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lady), Midsummer Day (St. John The Baptist), Michaelmas (St. Michael and All Angels) and Christmas. Lady Day was also, until 1752, the first day of the year. The year thus began in March, not January.
Quarter days in Scotland were different, including instead of Candlemas (2 February), whitsun (Pentecost) and Martinmas (St. Martin of Tours, 11 November).
Most confusing of all, the old Julian calendar which had been in use for centuries had miscalculated the rounds of the sun and was oout of synch with nature. In 1582, Pope gregory skipped 10 days (from October 5 - 14) to catch up. This was in effect in all Catholic countries immediately but the Protestant countries took some time to catch up. England made the change in 1752, when ten days in September were lost. Before that time, the year began in March and the days were different, so dates given in the Julian format are lablelled "Old Style" or OS. Gregorian dates are "New Style" (NS).
If you think that those ten days are long forgotten, you are wrong. We all know that July 12 is remembered in Ireland for the Battle of the Boyne. When the first battle of the Somme ( 1July 1916) resulted int he disappearance of the 9th Ulster Rifles through virtually all of the soldiers being killed or wounded, people pointed out that , under the Old Style, it was still July 12. The worst day in the Irish calendar had come back to haunt them.
A quick and easy dating reference is Genealogical Dates: A User Friendly Guide, by Kenneth L. Smith. This is a new edition of his popular handbook, which includes all the genealogical calendars I have mentioned above. Even bettter, it comes with a computer disk to assist you computations. If it interests you, send 19.50 US$ to Olde Springfield Bookstore, Box 171, Elversen PA 19520-0171, USA
The Book of Calendars is available in many public libraries.
Books By Ryan Taylor
Across The Waters, Ontario Immigrants Experiences 1820 - 1850 - by Frances Hoffman & Ryan Taylor, 1999. Riveting first-hand accounts of the immigration and settlement experience, taken from the diaries and letters of 150 immigrants.
Routes To Roots, The Best of Ryan Taylor's columns from the Kitchener Waterloo Record, by Ryan Taylor 1997
More Family History Research Resources