Just When Was the First Month?
Twigs and Trees, October 19, 2000
Researchers in the United States know that the year 1752 is a pivotal year when it comes to calendars. For it was in 1752 that England, and therefore the American colonies, converted from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. This changed the first day of the year, and the first month of the year. Under the Julian calendar the first day of the year was March 25.
While you may find it confusing to know when to include the double dating, imagine your frustration when trying to figure out just what the date was when working with Quaker dates. In regular dates, the double dating is usually included for the months of January and February and then March up to the 25th day. Seems simple enough.
Quaker records record all months by number, rather than name.
If you have not yet worked with Quaker dates, you may be wondering why they would cause additional difficulties. Quakers do not include the names of the months of the year or of the days of the week. Most of these names have been derived from pagan gods. At least two are named after Roman Caesar. The month of July is named for Julius Caesar and the month of August is for Augustus.
As a result, Quaker dates appear in the records in one of the following formats:
17th da 4th mo 1723
4mo 17da 1723
Translating Those Dates
The problem is that if you are not careful you can translate these dates incorrectly. And newcomers to genealogy very often will mistranslate these dates. Some genealogists do not yet understand the double dating and the change from Julian to Gregorian calendars. So they do not even realize that there is an issue here.
At first glance you may be thinking that the date above is 17 April 1723. However, this is not correct. The correct date would be 17 June 1723, because at this time March was the first month.
Verify Those Dates
Because of the possibility of transcription errors with Quaker records, it is essential to verify dates found in published genealogies. It is not uncommon to see a date of 4mo 17da 1723 transcribed in a published genealogy as April 17th. And remember for those months at the end of the year to include the double year.
For those new to Quaker research, you will want to read Ellen Thomas Berry's and David Allen Berry's Our Quaker Ancestors, Finding Them in Quaker Records. This book talks about the records created in the Quaker faith, the issue of dates, the record availability and the history of the growth of various Monthly Meetings.
This book had its third printing in 1996 and is published by Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc. You may be able to order it from Genealogical Publishing Company . You can also find this volume available at many libraries with genealogy departments.
Just remember, the first month of the year was not always January. For those with English and American Quakers, this critical year is 1752. Before 1752, the first month was March. After 1752, it was January.
Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is an award-winning author of several genealogy how-to books, including The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, The Genealogist's Computer Companion, and Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at [email protected].
See more advice from Rhonda in her columns Expert Tips, Tigs and Trees, and Overheard in the Message Boards.