Thursday, February 5, 2015

Understanding Dates

Laurence Harris, Head of GenealogyUK at MyHeritage, has written a very informative piece entitled, "Understanding Dates: Five Common Mistakes to Avoid".  You can read his entire article at

In summary, the five most common mistakes Mr. Harris points out are:

  1. Mixing up American and English date formats;
  2. Failure to recognize and convert Julian dates to Gregorian dates;
  3. Misunderstanding dates from other special/religious calendars;
  4. Confusing an event's date and the date it was registered or recorded; and
  5. Assuming that the dates in an article were recorded accurately.
Although Mr. Harris is writing for a UK audience, I think that many of the points he makes can apply to anyone, anywhere, doing family history research. Numbers 4 and 5 in the list are especially relevant to all of us. Many birth dates are arrived at using baptismal records from churches - and although the date of baptism might be close to the date of birth, the record usually doesn't indicate the actual birth date. The same can be said of dates of death. A death was often recorded because a record of the interment was noted by a church. Again, people were often buried very soon after their demise, but the interment and death dates are not necessarily the same. And let's not even get into the accuracy of a recorded date! I can't begin to count the number of times I have discovered this type of mistake!  

If you are exploring records from other countries, there was not a lot of consistency even between countries that bordered one another. The bottom line - it is important to understand what it is you are reading, who wrote it, and why and where it was recorded.  

Hope you will read Laurence Harris's post on MyHeritage. 

--  submitted by Denise Doyon

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