About Places and Dates on the Woodward Web Site

About Places and Dates on this Site

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About Places

Many of our ancestors lived during the time that states and counties were first being formed in America. Therefore a family might have children born in three different counties and never have moved an inch. For example, Abraham Woodward's children (except Eli) are shown as born in Rowan, Guilford, and Randolph Counties in these pages. However it is quite likely that they all were born in present day Randolph County, North Carolina. Randolph County was formed from Guilford County in 1779, and Guilford County was formed from Rowan and Orange Counties in 1770, hence the difference in places of birth. Some secondary sources may quote only the name of the present day county.

It is well to keep this in mind when examining census records. There is an excellent guide to state and county boundaries coincident with census dates Map Guide to the the U.S. Federal Censuses, William Thorndale & William Dollarhide, Genealogical Publishing Company, Inc., Baltimore, 1987. Maps in this book include an overlay of present day counties so it is quite useful in locating where an ancestor might be censused in different time periods. There are similar guides available that show township boundaries within states.

We have added some map pages on this site for some of the major locations for our families. See England & Ireland, Pennsylvania, North Carolina & Tennessee, and Indiana.

Gregorian vs. Julian Calendar

Through the year 1752, March 25 marked the beginning of each new year in England. The Gregorian calendar was adopted in the sixteenth century by most Roman Catholic countries, but England adhered to the Julian system until 1752 when they adopted the Gregorian system. On September 3, 1752, the Gregorian calendar (New Style or N.S.) replaced the Julian calendar (Old Style or O. S.) in England and its American colonies, by an act of Parliament. (September 3 became September 14.) An interesting history of the changes is found in an Ancestry.com article. For two more helpful articles in Ancestry.com (non-member access) on Recording and Interpreting Dates {Part I -Click}{Part II -Click}.

Leap Year

Another item to remember is leap year: every four years an extra day is added in February and there is a February 29. Some family tree programs do not account for leap year and you have no choice but to enter February 28 to make it work so be wary of February 28 dates. There is also a special rule that every year that marks a century is not a leap year unless it is divisible by 400. Therefore the year 2000 is a leap year although 1900 and 1800 would not be.

Quaker Dates

Quaker dates are usually expressed (for example) as 1st month, 10th day, 1799. They did not use names of the month and days of the week as most of those are named after pagan gods (for example Wednesday named after Woden). In some Quaker documents written down by clerks the clerk has inserted the name of the month. In dates in 1752 and before one should realize that 1st month is not January but March. Also there was a loss of a few days in the calendar transition. Further confusion is added as Quaker 1st day (of the month) always fell on Sunday.

When researching in secondary documents one has to judge whether dates have been converted and then how they have been converted. For example, Bradford Monthly Meeting records show Abraham Woodward's birthdate as 4th month, 17th day, 1740, which would be the original Quaker designation, and in Hinshaw's "Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy, Vol I" his birthdate is given as 6-17-1740. Hinshaw has simply made a two month transition to the Gregorian system and ignored any difference in days. Many sources follow this procedure. It becomes difficult even to keep one's own records.

A practicing Quaker, Dan Treadway, wrote an explanation about Quaker dates and with his permission we have posted it at the end of this page - it is the clearest explanation I have seen. Dan has a personal web page at http://showcase.netins.net/web/treadway {Click}.

An excellent article quoted from "Our Quaker Ancestors, Finding them in Quaker Records" by Ellen Thomas & David Allen Berry, can be found on Andria Wolfe's Web Site with more detailed explanation about dates.

Death Certificates and Tombstones

One would think that death certificates and tombstones would be excellent sources of correct dates but we have encountered many errors in both. It depends on who furnished the information and what they knew. There was also the possiblity that the person who gave the information was upset and made errors. Tombstones were often placed many years later when the real dates were forgotten. Sometimes tombstones give a death date and an age in years, months, and days. It is not exactly straightforward to translate this information into a correct birthdate, best to have a calendar in hand when you do it to account for leap years, etc. Rhetorical question - do you think our ancestors included leap years, etc. in their calculations of their age in years, months, and days for the tombstone? There is a birthday calculator web site where you can input the death date and the age and it will calculate a birth date {Click}.

There is a very useful 10,000 Year Calendar Website where you can look up any date and see what day of the week it fell on. Especially useful for obituaries published in a dated paper that says "died on Tuesday" for example. It also has a capability for inputting the 1752 calendar change. So far we don't think it will help with Quaker dates!

Bible dates

Some fortunate few genealogists find Bible records for their family. When they find them it is extremely important to note the publication date of the Bible that the information is recorded in. If the publication date is before the first entry in the Bible it is probably safe to assume that information was recorded when it happened and is reliable. If the publication date of the Bible is long after the first date in the Bible then you know you are dealing with things written from memory (one of the most dangerous of sources!). Example, we know of at least one Bible with a publication date of 1823 in which there are numerous entries for the 1700's, so one knows the entries were made after 1823 from someone's (or possibly more than one person's) memory.

More About Dates

Dan Treadway's explanation "About Dates":
It is said that in early Roman times, all the months were know by numbers, beginning with March. In time, though, several took on new names to honor pagan gods. The months of September through December retain their number-names today: sept=seven, oct=eight (as in octopus), nov=nine, dec=ten (as in decimal or decade).

Roman Emperor Julius established the Julian calendar in the Roman year 709, which we know as 46 BC. Each new year began on March 25, making February the last full month of the year. Because February was the last full month of the year, it was the one that got an extra day tacked on in each year whose number was divisible by four. Part of this calendar reform was to name the fifth month July, in honor of Julius, the newest pagan deity. Later Augustus did the same, and as he couldn't bear for his month to be shorter than Julius's, he stole a day from February and added it to what is now August. (How vain--it's one thing to declare yourself a god, and another thing altogether to disrupt commerce by changing the calendar!)

By the 16th century, it became clear that the Julian calendar's year was slightly longer than the astronomical year, off by about three days every four centuries, so another calendar reform was in order. This was carried out by Pope Gregory. I believe it was 1582 when the Gregorian calendar, which we now use, was first established in those countries when the Pope's edicts held sway. Gregory's reform had three main parts. First, leap day was to omitted in those years whose number was divisible by 100, but retained in those years whose number was divisible by 400. (1900 was not a leap year, as it was divisible by 100 but not 400; 2000 was divisible by 400, so it was a leap year.) Second, each new year was to begin on January 1. Finally, in order to realign the calendar with the way it was at the time of Christ, ten days were to be omitted in October 1582.(I sometimes wonder if some of the more isolated rural people didn't carry on having their New Years celebrations by the old calendar for many years, and thereby became the original April Fools.)

England, being a Protestant country by 1582, ignored Gregory's edict, and carried on using the Julian calendar until an act of Parliament decreed that the change would take place in 1752. In the meantime, 1700 was a leap year in England but not in France, so the number of days that needed to be dropped to make the dates match was eleven rather than ten--this was done in September 1752.

Some other non-Catholic countries waited even longer to convert to the Gregorian calendar, Russia in 1918 and Greece in 1923, for two. The Russian Orthodox Church still uses the Julian calendar, and so celebrates Christmas about two weeks after other Christians.

The confusion with "Quaker dates" arises because of the change of the beginning of the year from March to January, and from the fact that the Quakers refused to honor pagan gods by naming months after them, and used numbers instead. Since Quakerism began in England about 1650, for the first hundred years of the Quaker movement, their First Month was what the world called March, Second Month was April, and so forth. So the Quakers did reckon March as the first month, but this was only before 1752, and then it was everybody in England's realms, not just the Quakers.