Washington and the Calendar

washingtonToday is the anniversary of the birthday of out first President, George Washington. But he wasn’t born on February 22nd. The original birth date of Washington would have been February 11, 1751/2. There are two genealogy problems at work to cause the confusion.

First, there was a change in the calendar used. Originally most European countries used the Julian calendar which was begun by Julius Caesar. After many centuries it was found the calendar was off¬† by about 10 days. The Gregorian calendar (from Pope Gregory XIII) replaced the old Julian calendar in most Catholic countries in 1582. England and her colonies including us in America didn’t switch to the Gregorian calendar until September 1752. By that time there was a difference of 11 days. For a while after that you may see old records with either the suffix¬† “O.S.” for old style (Julian calendar) or “N. S.” for new style (Gregorian calendar) or occasionally both date styles recorded.

Then there is what most people call the double dating for the year. That arose because in England the start of the legal year began on March 25th. So dates from Jan. 1 to March 24 usually recorded with the double years. That has always confused genealogists. If you are looking at old vital records from New England and only see one year recorded before 1752 then check to see what year is recorded after March 25th in order to get the correct year.

This part isn’t related to Washington but I have some ancestors that were early Quakers (aka Society of Friends). Quakers recorded their records as xth day, xth month, year. Before 1752 the first month was March as in the English legal calender. Then beginning in 1752 the Quakers started having January as the first month.

No matter what country you are doing research in, you should familiarize yourself with the calendar that was used at that time. George Washington really was born 282 years ago today but that day wasn’t February 22nd.