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?