Data Entry – Dates

I’ve started, so I may as well finish. How should you enter dates? This is much less dates2critical than how you enter names of people or of places. You are not very likely to search for an exact date, after all is said and done. For internet searches, a year will usually suffice, or even a spread of years; plus or minus 2 years, for example. Even so, it is still important to avoid confusion in your work and presentation of data. Half the battle, of course, is knowing that there could be confusion.

You may well think that you are not going to be confused, and that is probably true. But unless you intend to keep all of your research private, and share with nobody else, ever, you should bear it in mind. You may wonder how dates can be confusing. Consider this: what date does 3/6/1820 represent? Is it, for example, the 3rd of June 1820, or March the 6th?

A lot will depend on where you live. When I moved to the United States, it took me several years to really get my head around the idea that 3/6 meant March 6th. My own opinion is that it is more logical to look at a date as going from the smallest increment of time (day) to the longest (year). Day, month year just seems to make sense. But to avoid confusion, I don’t use numbers for months at all in my family history. (I even avoid using them at work!) Saying 3rd June 1820 simply removes all doubt.

But did you know that years can also be confusing? What if you see a date like 14th February 1714/15? Would you assume that the person who wrote it was not sure of the dates_1year? It’s not as if the vicar or churchwarden wouldn’t have known what year it was when putting entries in the parish register. So what’s up with that? It’s actually to do with the Gregorian (as opposed to the Julian) calendar, where the year began on 25th March, so any date between 1 January and 24 March used the double year. And because Great Britain delayed so long in adopting the Gregorian calendar the date changed from 2 September 1752 to 14 September 1752 overnight. There were even protests about the government having stolen 11 days.

But that’s not as bad as Russia, for example, where they “lost” even more days because the current calendar was not adopted until 1919, a year after the October Revolution. So the October Revolution of 1917 (3 October 1917 Julian) really took place on 7 November in the current calendar.

It gets even more complicated if you have Quakers, Jews, or Muslims in your tree, but that is way beyond the scope of this post. Bottom line: dates are not as simple as might appear at first glance, and as with names of people and places, be consistent.

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