The history/family history hint in my first History Detective newsletter is covered below. You can access the full newsletter by clicking here.

History hint: Calendar confusion
In February 2013, I was one of the speakers on the Unlock the Past genealogy cruise and in one of my talks I happened to mention the changeover from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. I was surprised to find that a lot of the attendees didn’t know about this important historical event so I thought I would discuss it here. It’s an interesting bit of trivia for non-historians, but helpful for family historians. In 45 BCE, Julius Caesar implemented what became known as the Julian calendar, the system of date-keeping used thereafter in the “Judeo-Christian” countries (and others). Without our handy computers, his astronomers managed the extraordinary achievement of devising a civil calendar that diverged from the solar calendar by only eleven minutes per year. Unfortunately, by 1582, the compounding effect of that divergence meant that the civil and solar calendars differed by eight days. In that year Pope Gregory XIII decreed that the Gregorian calendar should replace the Julian calendar, with “leap year” rules to help keep the calendars in alignment.  Protestant England, however, refused to follow such a decree. As a consequence, in 1752, when England at last took action, the civil and solar calendars deviated by eleven days. The authorities decided to delete eleven days from a single year to bring the two calendars into alignment. Accordingly, 2 September 1752 was followed by 14 September 1752.  This meant that the year 1752 wasn’t the normal 365 days, but only 354 days. Imagine the community’s reaction: the masses were outraged because they thought they were losing eleven days from their lives. Imagine trying to make such a change today – particularly in our current political climate where the two sides of politics refuse to agree on … pretty much everything! For family historians, think about the impact on your ancestors’ lives. After I discussed this subject in a seminar, an attendee came up to me and mentioned that this change had impacted upon her mother’s life. No, her mother was not born before 1752. She was born in the USSR prior to 1918, the year Russia changed to the Gregorian calendar. In old age, her mother ended up in a nursing home suffering from dementia. She told the staff that she had two birthdays – and they, naturally, thought this was the dementia speaking. But it wasn’t. She truly did have two days on which she could celebrate her birth. If she had been born on 11 February 1731 (like American President George Washington), under the legal provisions of the new calendar her new birth-date became 22 February 1731. Actually, it became 22 February 1732, but I’ll explain that year change in my next newsletter. So, if you had the “choice” of two birthdays, which would you choose? It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? 


Jeffrey Bloomfield
14/05/2013 10:59pm

Wonderful newsletter - thank you. I would just add one correction to it on your interesting note regarding the calendar. You were fully correct but there is a side note. To this day, the Jews have a second calendar of their own. The Jewish calendar is a lunar one, and there is a set of months which are all shorter than the corresponding regular 30/31 day months and February 28/29 day month. This means that once every couple of years the Jewish calendar is out of line with the normal year. How to solve it - add an additional month ! Also the year is based on Jewish rabbinical studies of time based on the bible (similar to Bishop Ussher's dating the foundation of the world to 4004 B.C.). The current year is 5773. Keep in mind too that the beginning of the new year in the Jewish calendar is in the fall (usually September - but it has been as late as October) on the holy day of Rosh Hashonah (which also marks the start of the ten days of reflection and repentance ending on Yom Kippur, the "Day of Atonement" for our sins). This is not unusual - the Chinese have twelve year calendar cycles named for different animals, and their new year is in late January or into February (like this year). And the Eastern Orthodox church insists that the December 24th/25th Christmas and the (usual) late March early April (Easter) are not in the right points of the year. The Jews basically accepted the calendar of the Gentiles (whether Julian or Gregorian) because it made regular life easier, and they could keep their own calendar for themselves.

There is a famous eleven day coincidence in the Julian - Gregorian calendars you may have heard of. In 1616 Spain had the Gregorian calendar while England retained the Julian. On April 23,1616, in Stratford-on-Avon, William Shakespeare died. But this was the Julian calendar. Although there were many great dramatists who were Shakespeare's peers (like Marlowe and Ben Jonson and Thomas Kyd), he was such a gigantic figure in literature his only real contemporary was the author of Don Quixote, Miguel Cervantes. Cervantes died (based on the Gregorian calendar) on April 23 1616 too. Ironically there is a possiblity that Shakespeare had read Cervantes. He and John Fletcher collaborated on possibly three plays (Henry VIII - usually ascribed to Shakespeare alone, The Two Noble Kinsmen, and Cardenio). Cardenio is a lost play, but is based on a novella by Cervantes.


Carol Baxter
14/05/2013 11:19pm

Jeff, Thank you for that helpful response. I am sure historians and family historians will be most interested. Muslims use a different calendar as well, although I don't know how much it differs from the Jewish calendar. Interestingly, there are some African countries that still use the Julian calendar. Presumably international communications and travel has made it necessary for most countries, to some extent at least, to use the Gregorian calendar as well, being the world standard.

Frank Harvey
23/05/2013 11:33pm

Congratulations on your Newsletter.
May I make a comment about your info on the Julian/Gregorian calendar change in the UK? Your comments are in line with many other reports I have read about this matter . . . reports which deal with the riots all over England at the thought of people losing eleven days of their lives.
This often sounds as though the Brits of the 1700s were motivated to riot merely because they were superstitious - thinking that a change of date would magically shorten their lives by those eleven 'lost' days.
However, the more family history research I do the more I realise that ancient peoples were not stupid, even though their life-styles were incredibly different from ours. My thinking on this subject is that it was a matter of financial survival i.e: if, as a labourer, I am paid by the day for my labour, but my cottage is rented by the month . . . . then I am going to be deprived of up to eleven days income within the month of September 1752 ~ with the usual monthly outgoings.
Looking at it in this way demonstrates that the protests were probably more the result of financial concern than with mere superstition!

Carol Baxter
23/05/2013 11:53pm

Frank, Great comment and I have no doubt that you are right. In my next newsletter I talk about Lady Day and the British tax year and that, in itself, supports what you have said.
Many thanks,


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