The YEAR and our Genealogy Research
- The Year and The Calendar
Genealogy is the study of the chronology of ancestors. As such, time is
that measure of chronology that is needed to accurately record our
ancestors' place within context of the historical events of the world.
For more than 15 centuries, the world calculated time by the Julian
Calendar. Julius Caesar introduced into the Roman empire, the solar or
Egyptian year which took its name of the Julian year from him. The year was
divided into 365 days and six hours. The common Julian year consisted of
365 days; and the bissextile, which occurred every four years, of 366 days.
The variations of the calendar that have prevailed, have perplexed the
orderly recording of chronology. A second source of confusion concerned
different methods for identifying the beginning of the year. The Romans,
from the time of Julius Caesar, began the year on the first of January. The
ancient Greeks, at first counted from the winter solstice, and afterwards
from midsummer. The Macedonians began on the autumnal equinox. The sacred
year of the Jews, began with the first new moon after the vernal equinox
that is in the month of March. The Jewish civil year began with the new
moon immediately following the autumnal equinox, or the month of September.
During the middle ages, the Franks, under the Merovingian kings, began the
year with the month of March. The Popes began it sometimes at Christmas,
the 25th of December; sometimes on the 1st of January; and sometimes on the
25th of March, the day of the Annunciation. Under the Carlovingian princes,
two methods of beginning the year were generally prevalent in France;
Christmas and Easter. By using Easter, the first day of the year was
whatever day the moveable feast happens to fall. This latter custom
prevailed, also under the Capetian kings, and it was not until the middle of
the sixteenth century, that the custom was changed. Charles IX, by an edict
published in 1564, ordered that in France, the year should commence on the
1st of January. Previous to this edict, it sometimes happened because of
the variable date of Easter that the same month occurred twice in the same
year. For example, in the year 1358, the year began on Easter, April 1st,
but did not end until the 20th of April following, the eve proceeding the
next Easter. During that year there were nearly two complete months of
Astronomers calculated that there was an error of eleven minutes, fourteen
and a half seconds between the Julian calendar year and the solar year. At a
time when people lived more by the rising and setting of the sun and the
lunar cycles, eleven minutes did not amount to much concern. No allowance
was made for these minutes, which amounted to a day in about one hundred and
By the year 1582 the difference was eleven days. The most significant
impact was the timing of Easter and the gradual movement of the seasons.
Pope Gregory XIII, wishing to correct this error, commissioned a
mathematician, named Louis Lilio, to reform the Julian year, according to
the true annual orbit of the earth around the sun. The new Gregorian
calendar took its name from the pontiff, who ordered, by a bull published in
1581, that the calendar be corrected by dropping 10 days from the calendar
year to bring it into agreement with the solar year. The ten days were
dropped after the 4th of October, 1582, and what would have been the 5th of
October, was called the 15th. Additionally, the start of the year was
changed from the 25th of March to the 1st of January.
The Catholic States adopted the Gregorian calendar almost immediately.
Bohemia adopted the Gregorian calendar on January 6, 1584, Silesia on
January 12, 1584, and Moravia on October 4, 1584. The Protestant churches
however, wanting to have very little to do with something that the Pope in
Rome initiated, did not change right away. The Protestants in Europe as
well as the Russians and the Greeks continued to use the Julian calendar.
The difference between the old and new style, which was only ten days until
1699, was eleven days in 1700 and 12 days in 1800.
The Reformed Year of Calendar is distinct from the Gregorian and is based on
the calculations of a Professor Weigel from Jena. The Reformed calendar
differs in the method of calculating the time of Easter and the other
moveable feasts of the Christian churches. The Protestants of Germany,
Holland, Denmark and Switzerland, adopted this new calendar in 1700. But,
by the year 1776, the Protestants of Germany, Switzerland and Holland,
abandoned the short lived Reformed calendar and adopted the Gregorian.
In England, the year used to begin on the 25th of March until 1753. By an
act of Parliament, passed in 1752, the beginning of the year was changed to
the 1st of January. England and the colonies in America, adopted the new
calendar on September 2, 1752 and ordered that the 3rd of September should
be called the 14th of the same month.
In many countries the Julian Calendar was used by the general population
long after the official introduction of the Gregorian Calendar. During the
16th to 18th Centuries events were recorded with various dates depending on
which calendar was used. Dates recorded in the Julian Calendar were
annotated "O.S." for "Old Style", and those in the Gregorian Calendar were
annotated "N.S." for "New Style".
Russia did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1924.
The new beginning date for the start of the year meant that September was
now the ninth month instead of the seventh month and December the twelfth
month instead of the 10th month. A common abbreviation used in Latin
records, for the last four months of the year were; 7ber for September, 8ber
for October, 9ber for November, and 10ber for December. In the German
language, the abbreviations substituted bis for ber, and the months were
written as 7bis, 8bis, 9bis, and 10bis. The habit of using these
abbreviations continued for many years. After the calendar was changed,
these months became the 9th through the 12th months of the new year.
As one can imagine, these differing practices, open up an entirely new
element of confusion in recording dates. It is especially true immediately
after the change of calendars in various countries. Some record keepers
recorded dates according to the actual dates in effect when the event
occurred. Other record keepers, knowing about the changed dates,
recalculated dates to conform to the new calendar, without mentioning that
they had adjusted the dates. Which is which is anyone's guess.
Understanding this issue is of utmost importance when attempting to
calculate birth dates from the information contained in obituary records or
on cemetery tombstones.
Previously, it was a common practice to record the actual age of an
individual on their headstone, in years, months and days. While this
practice is rare today, it was very common during the 1700's and 1800's, a
period when the adoption of the new calendar was taking place around the
world at the same time that the migration from many countries was also in
full swing. Did the engraver of the tombstone, or the family take the lost
days into consideration? Was the age on the tombstone adjusted for the
missing days? Did either of them communicate to the other that they
calculated the change?
So we are now getting ready to start a new year in 2013.
So when you record your dates, especially in the 1700's and 1800's, please
get the dates right. It will help those in the future who examine our
research. I hope this information is helpful to your research. A date may
not be as exact as we hope.
Enjoy and Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Frank R. Plichta
"Searching the world for PLICHTAs"
Info requested for ANY Plichta from ANY place and at ANY time in history.
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