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Resources - Years & Dates

Calendar Change 1752

While trying to pinpoint an exact date of birth, marriage or death in searching British records before 1752, there are two traps for the unwary:

  1. The New Year was changed from 25 March to 1 January, shortening the year 1751, which started 25 March and ended on 31 December, leaving only 282 days. This was the result of the change from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar.
  2. There was a second change in the calendar in 1752, in which the days between 2 and 14 September were 'dropped'.

The background

Before 1582, the Julian Calendar was used throughout the Christian world. The calendar divided the year into 365 days, plus an extra day every fourth year. The year started on 25 March, and ended on 24 March. Then astronomers discovered that there was an error of eleven minutes a day, or three days every four hundred years. From 325 to 1582, that amounted to ten days in all. Therefore, Pope Gregory XIII decreed in 1582 that ten days be dropped from the calendar to bring Easter to the correct date, and that every four hundred years, Leap Year's extra day should be omitted in a centennial year, when the first two digits cannot be divided by four without a remainder. (This means it was omitted in 1700, 1800, and 1900, but was not omitted in 2000. Great Britain did insert a leap year day into 1752, as it was divisible by 4.)

All Roman Catholic countries changed their calendars accordingly; Protestant nations did so later, at various times. In the case of Great Britain, it was 170 years before the change was made.

These changes affect records in many ways. Some educated persons, believing the change should have been made in 1582, recorded a ‘double date’ – for instance, 7 January, 1687/88, indicating that while it was officially 1687, they considered it should have been 1688. This 'double dating' only applied to the periods of 1 Jan to 25 March, as the rest of the year was not in question. This is sometimes the case with legal documents.

Also, some parish registers show 17 August (O.S.) or 18 August (N.S.) - especially in the years 1751 and 1752. (O.S.= Old Style, N.S.= New Style.)

Because clerics and others were inconsistent in the recording of years, it's essential to understand which dating system was being used for any specific year. In most instances, parish records include the change from 1754 onwards, although some were earlier and a few were later.