Who would have thought that entering something as simple as a date could be so complicated? Unfortunately, it is!
First there is a choice between dd/mm/yyyy (01/12/1850), or the American format mm/dd/yyyy (12/01/1850). To make it ddmmyyyy ? (01121850) or dd-mm-yyyy (01-12-1850)? Some people, as their standard method of choice, prefer yyyymmdd (18501201) because (apparently) it can be sorted easily into chronological order. (Which unfortunately doesn’t work for us genealogists).
Unfortunately, all of the above can cause problems when dealing with recording dates from old parish registers. That is why we have created this page, to help you understand the history of the date records as well as understanding the slightly older recorded dates as they aren’t exactly in the modern day format that we use them in!
The correct format to enter dates into a genealogical record is:
dd mon yyyy(/y(0))
e.g. 01 Dec 1850 or 21 Jan 1723/4 or 21 Jan 1729/30
There are just two “awkward” years: 1599/00 and 1699/00, but they do follow the rule.
There is no ambiguity in this method. During the course of this document, we shall investigate why.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 etc. right? To us, yes, but this hasn’t always been the case.
Old parish registers can show numbers in a few different ways. The old way of forming them can also be different to what we know nowadays.
Latin format numbers
i, ii, iii, iv, v, vi, vii, viii, ix, x (1 to 10)
xx, xxx (20 & 30)
lx, lxx, lxxx (60, 70, 80)
m (1000) any of which can appear in upper or lower case. MCMLXVI/mcmlxvi
Most of us are fairly used to Latin numbering. But even here a long number such as a year takes some working out.
There is another little “quirk” with Latin numbers as written. It goes like this:
Notice that the last i, or even a single i, is written as a “j”
That’s even before we have the problem of deciphering the handwriting style! But even then, some clerics wrote numbers in words. One, two, three…. but in Latin of course. We need to be able to identify these. Fortunately, most of them, even if we haven’t ever learned them, seem familiar. (Because much of English is based on Latin anyway). There are also cases where a mixture of Latin and English is used!
English and Latin Numbers and Dates
With such historic data, it isn’t a surprise if you find a mixture of both English and Latin numbers in the same transcription or document. Below, you will find a quick guide for the different variations of the essential numbers that are most likely to feature in your genealogical search:
1 – i or j, primo, on the first, unus
2 – ii or ij, secondo, on second, duo, iid
3 – iii or iij, tertio, on third, tres
4 – iv or iiij, quarto, on fourth, quattuor
5 – v, quinto, on fifth, quinque, vth
6 – i or vj, sexton, on sixth, sex
7 – vii or vij, septimo, on seventh, septem
8 – viii or viij, octavo, on eighth, octo
9 – ix or viiii or viiij, nono, on ninth, novem
10 – x, decimo, on tenth, decem
11 – xi or xj, undecimo, on eleventh, undecim
12 – xii or xij, duodecimo, on twelfth, duodecim
13 – xiii or xiij, decimo tertio, on thirteenth, tredecim
14 – xiv, decimo quarto, on fourteenth, quattuordecim
15 – xv,decimo Quinto, on fifteenth, quindecim
16 – xvi or xvj, decimo sexton, on sixteenth, sedecim
17- xvii or xvij, decimo septimo, on seventeenth, septendecim
18 – xviii or xviij, decimo octo, duodevicesimo, on eighteenth, two from twentieth, octodecim, duodeviginti
19 – xix, decimo nono, undevicesimo, on nineteenth, one from twentieth, undeviginti
20 – xx vicesimo on twentieth viginti xxtie = 20tie
21 – xxi or xxj vicesimo primo on twenty first
30 – xxx tricesimo on thirtieth triginta xxxtie
40 – xl quadraginta
50- -l or L
60 – lx
70 – lxx
80 – lxxx
90 – xc
100 – c or C, centum
200 – cc
500 – d or D
1000 – m or M
MD = 1000+500 = 1500
MDC = 1000+600 = 1600
MDCC = 1000+700 = 1700
MDCXX = 1000+600+20 = 1620
MDCLXVIII = 1000+600+50+10+8 =1668
Fortunately for us, most Latin years written in parish registers are from 1538 to about 1640, although most ceased to be using Latin before 1600.
The Latin Calendar
We are used to January through December, but it wasn’t always quite that way.
Let’s start with the Latin December, because that’s easy to figure out. Yes. The 10th month. That is because until 1752, the year number changed over on March 26.
March – Mar (Latin Month Number) 1, Modern Month Number 3
April – Apr (Latin Month Number) 2, Modern Month Number 4
May – May (Latin Month Number) 3, Modern Month Number – 5
June – Jun (Latin Month Number) 4, Modern Month Number – 6
July – Jul (Latin Month Number) 5, Modern Month Number – 7
August – Aug (Latin Month Number) 6, Modern Month Number -8
September – Sep (Latin Month Number) 7 or 7ber, Modern Month Number – 9
October – Oct (Latin Month Number) 8 or 8ber, Modern Month Number – 10
November – Nov (Latin Month Number) 9 or 9ber, Modern Month Number – 11
December – Dec (Latin Month Number) 10 or 10ber, Modern Month Number – 12
January – Jan (Latin Month Number) 11, Modern Month Number – 1
February – Feb (Latin Month Number)12, Modern Month Number – 2
We have to be aware of this in reading numerical months in old registers, right up to December 1751. Watch out for those 8ber type entries too. Not the 8th month as we know it (August), but October!
When recording data from registers into a database (as opposed to making a literal transcription) use the three letter abbreviation for the month, e.g. Jan Sep etc. (without full stops/periods).
The 1752 calendar change
Before 1752, the year number changed over on March 26th. 1752 was the first year that January 1st was the first day of the year.
This gives us a potential little problem when recording dates before March 26th in each year.
Just to make life a little awkward for us, there was advanced warning of this change, and some clergymen jumped the gun and began using January 1st as the year changeover some years earlier, whilst some stubborn ones carried on using the year changeover as March 26th! Fortunately, you can identify these very easily in a register, as you can see where they have written the year number changes.
If March 26th was the first day of the year, and let’s say a couple were married on that day, in 1750. They could quite easily have a baptism of their first child on March 24th 1750 – which was really a year later, and not two days before!
That’s our problem. Some genealogists record precisely what is recorded in a parish register. Some record it as written, but didn’t realise that in our modern calendar they could actually be referring to a different year. Some genealogists make an allowance and record 5 January 1750 as 5 January 1751 because 1751 is the “real” year in our modern calendar.
The big problem with either, is that we don’t know if a genealogist or transcriber has written it literally or made allowance for the modern calendar!
So, the correct standard for writing these dates in our records (and when we transcribe registers) is in the form 1750/1. It is then extremely obvious that 1750 is what was written in the register, but it was really 1751 in the new calendar. 1749/50, 1630/1, etc. Easy! No confusion.
So, for all years up to and including 1751, dates between 1 January and 25 March inclusive, should be written with double dates. 23 Jan 1731/2.
Get in Touch with the Community
If all of these dates are still looking a little overwhelming for you, maybe someone in our forum can help answer your question. All you have to do is sign up for a free account and ask away! Our genealogy community is very friendly and are often looking to answer any questions they can!