The Mystery of the Missing Days
by Bob Brooke
On September 2, 1752, an odd happening occurred that's still keeping genealogists on
their toes. On that day, the British Isles and all the English colonies, including
America, lost 11 days--September 3 through 13. People went to sleep and when they
awoke the next morning, the date had changed to September 14. There were riots in
rural villages since the people thought the government was trying to cheat them out
of 11 days of their lives. Though these days disappeared in English lands in 1752, a
number had already vanished in other places--France in 1582, Austria in 1584, and
Norway in 1700.
The British were among the last countries in the world to accept that fact they were
using a flawed calendar. The Julian calendar--named after Julius Caesar, who adopted
it around 45 B.C.--declared March 25 New Year's Day and added that the year would be
365 days and 6 hours long. The Nicene Council officially adopted the calendar in 325
A.D. As it became possible to measure the length of the solar year more accurately,
astronomers found that the Julian system exceeded the solar year by 11 minutes, or 24
hours every 131 years, and three days every 400 years. This excess amounted to 10
days between 325 A.D. and 1582 A.D.
Pope Gregory XIII ordered a new calendar, called the Gregorian calendar in 1582, when
most of the world jumped forward by 10 days on October 5, thus restoring the vernal
equinox to March 21. To prevent the recurrence of this error, he ordered that, in
every 400 years, leap year's extra day should be omitted three times. To accomplish
this in an orderly fashion, he omitted the last day of February on centennial years
of which the first two digits couldn't be divided by four without a remainder. Thus,
it was omitted in 1700, 1800, and 1900, but won't be omitted in 2000.
All Catholic countries, following the edict of the Pope, adopted the new system. But
England, then in difficulties with the Church of Rome, refused to go along with the
new calendar until the mid-18th century and by then the difference had grown to 11
days. All British lands except Scotland, which changed its calendar 100 years before,
now celebrated New Year's Day on January 1. In Russia, the Julian calendar continued
to be used.
Despite the official calendar, people in England and the colonies began to use the
Gregorian system as early as the 16th century. Thus, many early colonial records
include double dates, written as "12 February 1661/1662," indicating that, although
it was officially 1661, some considered it to be 1662.
Genealogists, especially those just starting out on their quest for ancestors, need
to double-check dates found in English-speaking countries between 1582 and 1752. Are
these dates listed as O.S.(Old Style) or N.S.(New Style)? Is there a date listed as
1750/51? That means it would have probably been between January 1 and March 24, which
means that 1750 is the old-style notation and 1751, the new one. These double dates
occur only in January, February and March--never in any other months and never after
In addition, dates in the 17th century frequently have the month indicated by its
number rather than its name. This was because most of the months had Roman or "pagan"
names and the Puritans and Quakers disliked them. Since March was considered the
first month of the year before 1752, a date before that might read like this: "13th,
2nd mo:1683." This becomes "13 April 1683." Generally, the day came first and the
month second, but to be sure, genealogists make sure by comparing the date with
others in the same record.
Frequently, this change in the calendar will explain the birth of two children
apparently within too short a period. Thus, if a researcher finds that Joshua and
Rachel Smith had a daughter Mary, born 22 March 1638, and from another record a son,
Henry, born 27 February 1639, it would seem that they were born 28 days apart, but
were actually born 11 months apart, according to old and new-style dating.
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