Happy New Year!
Now genealogists will have come across dates in their research that appear to make no sense. How many of us have seen this 2nd January 1700/1701. But what does this really mean. Well a bit of a history lesson is required.
The exact date of New Year’s Day has moved throughout the years, and it was not the same in different countries. For example now the west celebrates on a different date from China, but in the Tudor era the protestant countries celebrated on a different day from the catholic countries.
At some periods in history the New Year was celebrated on the 25th of December to celebrate the birth of Christ were as others celebrated this day but because they felt it was the winter solstice.
Up until the 6th century New Year was celebrated on the 1st January but the catholic church deemed it should be moved to the 25th March each year. This was because it was Lady Day or the feast of the annunciation. In other words the day Gabriel was supposed to have told Mary she was with child in the bible. So the church decided the New Year should begin on this day to honour this.
New Year was still celebrated on the 1st January despite the actual date being the 25th March. There is evidence of King Henry VIII exchanging New Year gifts on the 1st January in 1534.
In the 1580’s the Pope declared that the Gregorian calendar to be the correct one and declared the New Year was to be January 1st. This was because of changes made to the calendar to set dates rather than them moving with the changing date of the equinox. So 10 days were removed from the calendar and dates were standardised. It’s just in Britain we didn’t go with that as the Pope had no influence over us as Queen Elizabeth was the head of the church. We did use the Gregorian calendar though but we would continue to celebrate New Year in March until 1752 when we adopted the changes to the calendar and set the New Year as January 1st.
Now this is where the confusion comes for genealogist. Before 1752 your ancestors could very well have been born in between New Year and Lady Day. This would mean that they had their birth registered in 2 years thus leading to the year being given as 1700/1701 as in the example above. So if they were born on the 2nd January 1701 under the current calendar then this was their date of birth but because it hadn’t been adopted yet then their date of birth was 2nd January 1700. So to avoid confusion genealogists and transcribers have to write the date as the 2nd January 1700/1701. This way the person viewing the record knows their ancestor was technically born in 1700 but under the modern calendar it was 1701.
Life became much easier in 1752 when we adopted the current system as a result of the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750. It was done to bring us in line with the rest of Europe under the rule of King George II. The year 1751 ran from the 25th March to the 31st of December and days were removed. Also in 1752 the year was shortened as well. So if you birthday was between Wednesday 2 September 1752 and Thursday 14 September then you didn’t age that year as you had no birthday.
It should be noted that in Scottish genealogy they had set the 1st January as the start of the New Year in the 1600’s but it became official in 1752 in line with the rest of Britain.
So New Year has moved but the result is the same. You ancestors were born and lived and thus we do to.
Happy New Year to you all.
Hello and thank you for taking the time to read my Family History Ramblings on genealogy and history in general. I hope you find it informative and hopefully funny!