"Our Loose Ends" Genealogy Column
by Lynna Kay Shuffield
Houston, Texas

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Printed Taylor Daily Press - 25 Nov 1999

Gregorian Calendar vs. Julian Calendar

With the millennium just a few days down the road, genealogists need a good perceptive of the calendar. Our first calendar was known as the Julian Calendar and Julius Caesar instituted it in 46 B.C.

In 1582, an astronomer, Christopher Clavius informed Pope Gregory XIII that the first day of Spring had fallen on March 10th of that year. However, in 325 A.D., the Council of Nicaea established the dates for the holidays in the Christian calendar, and they determined the first day of Spring would fall on March 21st.

Pope Gregory felt it was important to put the season back in the same places on the calendar, so he declared that the day after Oct. 4, 1582, was Oct. 15, 1582. He also adopted a revision in the calendar, which resulted in the average length of a year being closer to the length of a tropical year. This calendar, which we now use, is called the Gregorian Calendar. The Gregorian Calendar was adopted because the Julian Calendar incorrectly measured the solar year. It is interesting to note that today; the Julian Calendar is now more than seven years behind the Gregorian Calendar.

Great Britain and the American Colonies did not adopt the Gregorian Calendar until Sept. 14, 1752 when the British Government passed the “Act for Regulating the Commencement of the Year; and for Correcting the Calendar now in Use.”

To convert a date from the old Julian Calendar to the new Gregorian Calendar, you must add 10 to 13 days to the old date, and sometimes change the year one extra when the date falls within the period of Jan. 1st through March 24th. The reason for this is the Gregorian Calendar recognizes Jan. 1st as the first day of the year, while the Julian Calendar recognized March 25th as the first day of the year.

The date difference is critically important to genealogy and historical researchers. Documented dates before March 25, 1752 do not always related to their associated date and stated period of time. And, references to New Year's Day before 1752, in Great Britain or the American Colonies actually meant March 25th.

Therefore, dates between Jan. 1st and March 24th are often written with both year numbers (e.g., Jan. 5, 1712/13). Also, the Julian Calendar was defective by 11 days, so when the switch was made to the new calendar on Sept. 2, 1752 dates were often made compatible with it by adding 11 days. People went to bed September 2nd and woke up the next day on Sept. 13th. Just think of the protests when everyone learned they would loose 11 days out of their lives!

For example, under the Julian Calendar, George Washington was born on Feb. 11, 1731/32. When adjusting this date to the Gregorian Calendar, the new date is Feb. 22, 1732. So, when anyone gripes that we are celebrating George’s birthday on the nearest Monday to Feb. 22nd, remind him or her that he was actually born on the 11th day of the 12th month of 1731. Oh, now I’ve really confused you!

Remember, under the Julian Calendar the 1st month of the year was March, followed by, April – 2nd, May – 3rd, June – 4th, July – 5th Month, August – 6th, Sept. – 7th, Oct. – 8th, Nov. – 9th, Dec. – 10th, Jan. – 11th, and Feb. – 12th.

The average length of a Gregorian year is 365 days, 5 hours, 49 minutes, and 12 seconds, still about 26 seconds longer than a tropical year. However, more than 3,000 years must now pass for the seasons to move back by one day.

Another importance to genealogy and historical researchers are the days of the week. Everyone known that Dec. 7th occurred on Sunday. However, do you know what day of the week Dec. 5, 1928 falls? The answer: Wednesday. There is an outstanding website which I highly recommend and it will configure a calendar for any year you desire. This website is Steffen Thorsen of Norway and is located at URL: http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/.

Internet Hint

If you are interested in Civil War history, one of the best resources is the “Confederate Regimental History Links” webpage located at: http://www.tarleton.edu/~kjones/confeds.html which is hosted by Dr. Kenneth W. "Ken" Jones, University Librarian at the Dick Smith Library at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas.

Dr. Jones states that the purpose of his website “is to bring together sites that are about or contain a good deal of information about any regiment that served in a Confederate Army or for the Confederacy.”

Genealogist will find a wealth of information about the various units in which their ancestors served. To go directly to the webpages devoted to “Texas in the Civil War” which includes an index of Confederate Regimental Histories for Artillery, Cavalry, Infantry and other units, go to: http://www.tarleton.edu/~kjones/CStx.html#TX-Gen'l.

For information on Civil War naval activities, visit Dr. Jones’ webpage for the “Directory of Civil War Naval Forces” located at http://www.tarleton.edu/~kjones/navy.html.

In this column, I will be glad to highlight and review any family history, genealogy, county history, or similar book, free of charge, if you donate a copy of the book or item. After it has been highlighted and reviewed, on a space available basis, it will be donated to the genealogy section of a library. You will receive an acknowledgment of the donation from the library. Mail item or book to me at the below address.

Lynna Kay Shuffield has written several books related to Texas genealogy and military history. She has spoken before numerous genealogy and veterans groups. Also, is a County Coordinator for the Texas GenWeb Project. Regretfully, she cannot help with individual genealogical research. Please visit the website for this column at: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Academy/2670/ COLUMN-001.htm or if you have any questions, comments, suggestions for column topics, genealogy or historical society announcements, please contact her at: P. O. Box 16604, Houston, Texas 77222-6604 or e-mail: lksfriday@sbcglobal.net

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This webpage was last created on 8 Nov and was last revised on 26 Nov 1999, 10 Jan 2000

Copyright © 1999, 2000 Lynna Kay Shuffield - All rights reserved.
P. O. Box 16604
Houston, Texas 77222-6604