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Beginning Genealogy Lessons
by Don B. Dale

Lessons To Help You Get Started & Sometimes To Keep Going

Lesson 7: Watch That Date

Although it is an exhilarating experience to discover a date long sought  in genealogy, how valid is this newly-found date?

For years, professional genealogists have been insistent about the pitfalls of accepting at face value any date recorded anywhere.  Never, they say, rely upon a single source.  Accept as truth only a date which has proof from many sources.

An interesting study conducted in Alpena County, Michigan, involved death records. The purpose was to prove or disprove the cautious stand taken by genealogists about questioning all dates unless several sources agree.   From 1865 to 1879, 661 deaths had been recorded in Alpena County in one or  more of the following sources:  one, "Death Book A," located in Alpena  County Courthouse; two, cemetery stones found in three cemeteries; and  three, death notices printed in the ALPENA WEEKLY ARGUS, a newspaper in that county.

Courthouse records only began in 1871, so the years for the study included  1871-1879.  Of the 661 recorded deaths from 1865 to 1879, 523 were recorded  in only one of the three sources given above; 114 deaths were recorded in  two of the three sources; and only 24 were recorded in all three sources.   Of the 114 deaths with two sources, 15 were not used because the cemetery  stones gave only the year of death, or the courthouse record lacked the day  of death.

It should be noted that the deaths studied were recorded deaths only.  There  would be no way to study the total number of deaths, as many were not  recorded.   The interesting results of the test were as follows:      * Of 30 deaths recorded in both the courthouse and the ARGUS, only 15        had the same dates.           * Of 19 deaths recorded in the cemeteries and the ARGUS, only six had        the same dates.     * Of 44 deaths recorded in both the cemeteries and the courthouse, 18        had the same date.       * Of 24 deaths recorded in all three sources, only six had the same        date.

It would seem that, of the 661 recorded deaths, only the six which were  recorded exactly the same in all three sources could be accepted as truth. It seems to follow that family historians cannot depend on finding accurate  information by using just one source.  As far as possible, researchers  should check all available sources in a community.

It will always be necessary to take into account the human errors made by  the clerk, the typesetter, the stone engraver, and the person providing the  information.  So, when that long-sought-for date is found, suppress the  exuberance!  The door has just been opened, slightly.

Question everything you read or find!  (Abstracted from
"Documenting Your  Research" by Stan Beck, from FAMILY TRAILS by the
Michigan Department of  Education, Vol. 6, No. 2, Winter 1979; by way
No. 11, Sept. 1980)

In a nutshell, the calendar (Julian for Julius Caesar) in use until 1582  was in error by 11 minutes 14 seconds every year and had March 25 as the  start of the new year. Pope Gregory XIII fixed it by starting a new calendar (Gregorian) with Jan 1 as the first day in the new year.  This happened in 1582, but different countries adopted the "new calendar" at various times  - with 1752 being the adoption year for England and us Colonies.  Be careful when finding dates in this time frame - Sept. 2, 1752 was followed by  Sept 14, 1752! (that's the actual date the change was made). Because of the change, standard practice is to show "double dates" for any  date Jan 1 to March 25 prior to 1752.  FTM has adopted the procedure that  if you only enter one date, it is assumed (there's THAT word!) to be the  second year (ie - your example of Jan 1, 1730 will show as Jan 1, 1729/30)  because most of the people used the Gregorian calendar, while the government used the Julian Calendar.  You can force it to what you want by entering  the whole thing (Jan 1, 1730/1731 if that's what you wanted), or you can  turn off "double dating".  ____________________________________

From a distant cousin who works on Russian genealogy and
specifically Germans form Russia translations, the issue has come up of
Old Russian Calender Calulations. Until 1700, when Peter I introduced the
European year-count  in Russia {based on the birth fo Christ], the
era was counted "from the  creation of the world", that is, 5508
before Christ. We are officially  living in the Year 7508 AM (from
date of creation,according to Old  Russian Calender calculations
based on the Old Testament).

So if you have old Russian genealogy and learn that some relative got a trade charter with the Russians in 7189, to convert you would have to subtract 5508.  In short, today is 7508 minus 5508 = year 2000. To understand  this calendar a bit one has to recognize that the Byzantine Orthodox  Church had much in common with the Old Testament and the "date of  creation" (AM) is deep in the Christian tradition. But in 1700  the calendar reformations of Peter the Great were part of his anti-clerical reforms and he introduced the European year-count.

So If you come across a year of importance like 7189, and it
deals with an ancestor in Russia, don't necessarily jump to the conclusion
that it's a typo or misprint as it could very likely be that the year in
question is 7189 - 5508 = 1681 AD
Determine Date of Birth from death date on tombstone

To ascertain a birth date from a tombstone: e.g. 
(d. May 6, 1889, aged 71 years, 7 months, 9 days) 
Use the 8870 system:Write date as 18890506(for died 
1889, 05th month, 06th day)& subtract 710709 
(for 71 years, 07 months, 09 days) 
18890506 - 710709 = 18179797 - 8870 = 18170927 
Answer: means born 1817, 09th month, 27th day

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Originally posted: 08-May-97. Update: 04 August 2005.