Vernal Equinox: Calendars and Dates for Scottish Genealogy

The solar year spring or vernal equinox occurs between 19 Mar and 21 Mar. In 2007, the solar date is 20 Mar 2007 in many parts of the world and 21 Mar at 00.07 in the Northern Hemisphere–which is where this Genealogy News Sheet resides. The reason the dates appear differently, depending upon which website you search, comes from the calendar used. The ecclesiastical equinox which governs the date of Easter and thus, the dates of movable feasts and festivals in the Western World, is fixed as 21 March–and it never moves. Only the solar equinox moves. This is the day when the daylight hours equal the night- time hours between the winter and summer solstices.

Why is all this important for your genealogy? Let’s look at the genealogy issues:

  1. Confidence in the records you create. You want your own records to be accurate and to reflect your commitment to producing linked relationships that others can accept as true. Accuracy of detail breeds confidence.
  2. Your genealogy requires precision in names, in dates, in places, in relationships, and in migration patterns.
  3. Clear and precise evidence can be found where your reader expects to find it–or you provide directionals for hidden and obscure information.
  4. The ability to spot, in the records you search, the pivotal record that ties the genealogy together is based on these issues. Is it any wonder you search and search without finding the answer?

Dates and time matter when your desired end product is truth.

Calendar changes in Scotland and the British Isles. The Scottish government accepted the Gregorian Calendar change 1 Jan 1600, beginning the legal year the same date as the calendar or lunar year. This left only nine months in 1599. Scotland did not, however, realign the dates of the calendar year to match the legal year in 1600. This means that when the British Parliament mandated the change from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar in 1752, Scotland–now a part of Great Britain–added the extra 11 days to realign the dates with the sun. The Sun time was ahead of the Earth time exactly 11 days as of September 1752. So the law changed 2 Sep 1752 to 14 Sep 1752 to align the calendar correctly. Scotland’s time and dates now matched the rest of Great Britain.

The change to the Gregorian Calendar 1 Jan 1600 eliiminated double-dating: dates for January, February, and the first to the 24th day of March were double-dated. For example, 2 Jan 1592/93 at the time of recording; or, written 2 Jan 1592 OS (Old Style) after the change was made. The double-date indicated the date fell into the calendar year following, but remained within the previous legal year. Lazy clerks did not double-date–so researchers using those same records must watch carefully and compensate for the clerk’s incomplete entry.

Genealogical impact of calendar changes:

The missing days must be calculated into the equation when you derive birth dates from ages at death or other events recorded in tombstones, obituaries, and family Bibles as well as traditional celebration of events conveyed by oral history. Marriage dates of parents and birthdates of children also require adjustment to accomodate the beginning of the legal year.

Such adjustments will ensure that you search the right time-span for birth entries in the records. The number of children christened for the 11-day time span with the same name in modern indexes can be immense, so identifying the correct entry requires some precision in the conversion of dates.

The International Genealogical Index (IGI) includes dates that are converted as they are input so matching those dates requires subtracting the correct number of days to find the right entry in the original churchbooks on microfilm, or in other databases.

Remember that at varying time periods, it was customary to add Saint’s names to naming patterns for birthdays. This date can vary by calendar, be eliminated, or changed as dates are reconstructed. These changes may or may not be converted for personal celebrations later in life. Be careful and allow some fluctuations in your searches too.

Add to your Spring reading list:

“Easy Date Converter.” Use online at or download at

Smith, Kenneth. Genealogical Dates: A User-Friendly Guide. 1994. Picton Press, P.O. Box 1111, Camden ME 04843-1111. The best and most complete genealogy date guide. Includes Quaker dating and full discussion of the importance of the date of Easter. The church calendar with variant spellings of Saints and Festivals, as well as numerous examples of how to calculate dates from exact ages creates a clear, precise ready-reference.

Webb, Clifton R. Dates and Calendars for the Genealogist. London: Society of Genealogists, 1989. Mr. Webb has edited more than 200 volumes of historical records, mopstly in and around London. His short and basic discussion of dates is based on what he found in the records themselves.

Wilson, George B. Wilson, “Genealogy and the Calendar,” Maryland Magazine of Genealogy, 1 Fall 1978): 13-20. Important discussion of calculating birth dates from tombstone ages at death.
Tune in on 25 March and subsequent posts for the next installment on genealogy record dating, the days that were not, and precise definitions of all the calendar years your research will encounter. These vital facts will change many difficult genealogy problems to easily solved. Your genealogy expert of choice, Arlene Eakle
P.S. This Saturday, 24 Mar 2007, I speak at the Logan Genealogy and Family History Jamboree. See my speaking schedule–click on left menu on my home page. And next week I’ll give you a report on this important conference including an update of Pirates of the Pedigree.
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3 Responses to Vernal Equinox: Calendars and Dates for Scottish Genealogy

  1. Col says:

    I’m a little bit confused here. Did Scotland adopt the Gregorian calendar in 1600 or did she just change the start of the year from 25 March to 1 January?

    What “does accept the Gregorian calendar” really mean?

    Also , 11 day weren’t added… they were actually subtracted from the British calendar in 1752.

    Any information e.g. source documents, web pages would be gratefully appreciated.


  2. arlene says:

    Scotland adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1600. When Great Britain made the calendar change in 1752, Scotland added 11 days. This brought Scotland even with Great Britain after the change.
    A quick review of my blogs from January 2007 through April 2007 will supply websites and references to this confusing genealogy knowledge.
    Or Google “Gregorian Calendar” and checkout the myriad of sites which appear on the screen.
    Just remember to adjust the time when your ancestor moves from one country to another across time boundaries–or your dates will be as inaccurate as the rest of them who overlook this important historical knowledge.
    Thanks for your inquiry, your favorite genealogist, Arlene Eakle.

  3. Col says:


    Thanks for response. I firmly believe that Scotland reverted to the Roman version of the Julian Calendar in 1600 i.e. year starting on 1 Jan, and did not accept the Gregorian until 1752 at the same time as England.

    I’m afraid we’ll have to a agree to disagree.

    All the best… Colin

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