Beginning of the Year

The Julian reform imposed by Julius Caeser more than two millenia ago created a calendar year that ran from January to December, and countries using this calendar celebrated “New Year's Day” on 1 January, the same as is now done with the Gregorian calendar.

However, in medieval Europe, New Year's Day wasn't necessarily the first day of the numbered year. Instead, the numbered year would often begin on 25 Dec (Nativity of Jesus) or 25 Mar (Incarnation of Jesus). Some Eastern European countries started their numbered year on 1 Sep, a rule in place since about 988.

For example, in countries such as England that used the 25 Mar start date, 24 Mar 1532 would have been followed by 25 Mar 1533.

An added complication is the fact that, over their history, some countries may have changed the date that started their numbered year more than once.

Many Western European countries shifted their numbered year to align with the calendar year while they were still using the Julian calendar. Others shifted as part of moving to the Gregorian calendar. (The shift was not mandated by that reform, though it was hinted at.) Due to this shift, the Julian and Gregorian calendars are sometimes referenced as the “Old Style” and “New Style” calendars, respectively.

The following table identifies the countries that shifted the first day of their numbered year to the first day of January prior to their adoption of the Gregorian calendar change.

LocationYear
Denmark1559
France1564
Germany1544
Lorraine1579
Portugal1556
Prussia1559
Russia1700
Scotland1600
Southern Netherlands1556
Spain1556
Sweden1559
Turkey1918
Tuscany1721
Venice1522

Dual Years or Dual Dating

During the years from when the Gregorian adjustment was announced (1582) until the last country using the Julian calendar changed (1923), there could be issues in handling records between locations. Even before the adjustment, the change of the first day of the numbered year was not done everywhere at the same time, and could cause problems.

To overcome this, those authors and record keepers who understood the change would provide both years when writing a date. For example, in England you might see a date given as “January 1720/1” or as “January 1720/1721.” The first year is in the local Julian calendar year, the second is the Gregorian year. It does not indicate an unknown date or a date range.

This dual date system was especially used for dates recorded in England, including those in Quaker records. I'm not sure how often it may have been used in other locations.

Note that dual dating is necessary only for those months in which the calendars overlap. For example, if the year started on 25 March, only January, February, and those days in March before the 25th would be affected and need both years specified. The other days and months would have the same year.

Unfortunately, dates prior to the change in any given location may currently be recorded with either the original Julian year or the Gregorian year, and without a notation as to which date format is used. Thus it is easy to use the wrong date and introduce an error. The use of dual years helps to avoid this confusion and should be used on all newer records on this site.