“Borrowing Days” and other Genealogy Date Traps

March was originally a month of 29 days under the Julian Calendar. Scotland has an old legend that March, wanting to increase his power to exit like a lion, borrowed three days from April–29, 30, 31.

“The 29th was frost. The 30th was snow. The 31st was as cold as ever’t blow.”

An old Spanish legend adds that a shepherd bargained with March to temper the weather for the sake of the new baby lambs born each Spring. In return, the shepherd would give March a lamb of his own. When the shepherd broke his promise, March went on a rampage these three “borrowing” days and blew gale force winds on everyone, including the baby lambs. (Adapted from The Old Farmer’s Almanac, 2007)

Our “borrowing days” story: March’s exit like a lion.

On the 13th of March, sparks from an unaware welder’s torch, smoldered all night in our milking parlor roof. Our dairy farm milks over 250 cows night and morning. About 5:00 am, just as the milkers were bringing the cows in to milk, the fire broke through from the attic and destroyed most of the barn. From the front, the metal-covered roof did not look any different. But once inside the dairy parlor itself, the sky could be seen the whole length of the barn. All of the tubes and pipes were useless.

The cows had to wait almost 48 hours to be milked! The workmen brought in extra crews to restore all of the melted and dysfunctional equipment as quickly as possible. The new trusses, built to match the exact span of the roof, will not arrive for three more days. So we were ready to crack a deal with March about his weather ourselves.

Yesterday as part of a strong Spring storm front, wind gusts up to 45 miles an hour raced over the damaged roof. And did not collapse it. The predicted snow did not come. And the rain fell more lightly than expected. We truly are blessed–without having to bargain with March!

The borrowed days were never returned. Under the Gregorian Calendar, March is a 31- day month.

Two revolutionary calendars also deserve attention here:

  1. The French Republican Calendar. The new French National Convention wanted a new calendar, based on the decimal metric system–to correct some of the problems caused by the Gregorian Calendar, adopted in 1582, and to eliminate Roman Catholic feast days: 1789 became Year 1 of Liberty. Read John A. Dahl, “The French Republican Calendar,” Genealogical Journal 2 (1973): 90-96. Includes calendar charts.
  2. Regnal Calendar Changes, England. The regnal years of Charles II, who was actually restored to the throne 29 May 1660, are calculated from 3o Jan 1649, when his father Charles I, was dead–as if the intervening years had not occurred. The chaos of the civil war years under Charles I and the rise and fall of the Cromwells during the Interregnum period were thought best forgotten. The legal and civil years did not change. However, all of the legal documents were recorded by the regnal calendar and do not match the church books. Watch for this. Other problems with the regnal years are charted in “Figuring Dates with Old English Records,” Tri-State Trader (1 April 1978): 45. This chart has saved me many mistakes!

Almanacs and Your Genealogy. The largest single collection of almanacs is at the American Antiquarian Society. I went there just to use those for Pennsylvania. However, every town of any size has issued one or more almanacs. And their publication was regular and certain. Our ancestors used their copies up–wore away the pages, faded the illustrations, tore out recipes and instructions. These valuable, annual publications were intended to be used.

Some almanacs were general in nature with lists of railroads, canals, colleges, churches for each denomination, and an annual chronicle of events. Some are highly specialized like The Free Mason’s Calendar with a list of lodges and their officers and the Anti-Mason almanacs published from 1828-1835.

Each church denomination published their own almanacs and many still issue them today. Clergy lists, church festivals and special events, vital records for important church folk, and missions with missionaries coming and going are included.

Temperance unions, emancipation societies and their activities, political campaigns, jokes and comics, physicians and natural medicine, even musicians with their latest musical scores were available. By 1925, the American Antiquarian Society had preserved more than 15,000 different volumes.

Study Bibliography:

Jerabek, Esther. “Almanacs as Historical Sources,” Minnesota History 15 (1934): 444-49. Description of the Czech and other foreign language almanacs which include autobiographical reminiscences of pioneers and personal interviews with earliest immigrants.  Lists of immigrants are also printed.

ONeal, David L. Early American Almanacs: The Phelps Collection, 1679-1900. Peterboro NH: Antiquarian Booksellers, 1979. Describes several thousand volumes, including the Poultry-Breeders Almanac.

Sagendorph, Robb. American and Her Almanacs” Wit, Wisdom, & Weather, 1639-1970. Dublin NH: Yankee Publishing Co., 1970. Includes a list of libraries and archives with substantial collections of almanacs.

Tune in next post for an update on Pirates of the Pedigree and the absolutely incredible job “Dear Myrtle” did at the Logan Family History and Genealogy Jamboree.  What a lot of research-shaking news we have to report next  time.   Your favorite genealogy expert of choice.  Arlene Eakle   How do you like my new photo?

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