Numbers and dates

For the FreeREG database to be searchable, it is essential that dates are entered using a standard format, no matter how they were written in church registers. Here is a guide to numbers and dates, whether written in English or in Latin.

Dates in genealogy records

Your idea of what constitutes a standard way of writing a date will depend on where you live. If you are in Britain, you are likely to use 01/12/1850 (dd/mm/yyyy) as the shorthand for the first of December 1850. But if you live in the USA, 12/01/1850 (mm/dd/yyyy) will be more natural. To avoid any such ambiguity, some people prefer to use 1850/12/01 (yyyy/mm/dd).

The 1752 calendar change

Unfortunately not even this will work for England and Wales genealogy records because of the calendar change in 1752 which moved the first day of a year from 25 Mar (Lady Day) to 01 Jan. And to make life a little awkward for us, there was advanced warning of this change, and some clergymen jumped the gun and began using 01 Jan as new year some years earlier, whilst others stubbornly carried on using the year changeover as 25 Mar. Fortunately you can identify these easily enough in a register, by noting when the year number changes.

Now, some genealogists would record 5 January 1750 say, when found in a parish register, as 05 Jan 1750. Others would make an allowance and record 5 January 1750 as 05 Jan 1751 because 1751 is the real year in our modern calendar. But the big problem with either, is that we don't know if a genealogist or transcriber has written a date literally or made allowance for the modern calendar.

The split-year convention

The best way to record 5 January 1750 is as 05 Jan 1750/1. It is then obvious that 1750 is what was written in the register, but that 1751 is the year in the new calendar.

To put it more generally, the correct format for entering dates into a genealogical record is dd Mon yyyy(/y(0)). This means a 2-digit day, followed by a 3-letter month, followed by a 4-digit year. The part at the end in parentheses, (/y(0)), is used for a date from 01 Jan to 24 Mar in any year before 1752. Some examples: 01 Dec 1850, 21 Jan 1723/4, 15 Feb 1729/30, but 30 Jun 1712.

There are two awkward split-years that require two zeroes, 1599/00 and 1699/00. And you do need to be careful at the turn of a decade, hence 1729/30 is correct, not 1729/0.

This way of writing dates is also known as double-dating or as old-style/new-style.

Scotland

Scotland adopted January 1st as New Year's Day in 1600: any date recorded in a Scottish register from 1600 onwards will be a new style date. So, we need to insert the old style year for dates from 01 Jan to 24 Mar (incl.) in any year from 1600 to 1751 (incl.). For example: a date recorded as 15th February 1658, should be entered as 15 Feb 1657/8; and 6th January 1700 as 06 Jan 1699/00.


Months

The calendar change (described above) explains why the months of September to December are so named. In the old calendar, December was the tenth month rather than the twelfth, November the ninth rather than the eleventh, and so on.

Do take care in reading numerical months in old registers. Right up to December 1751, August was the 6th month, not the 8th, and 8ber was an abbreviation for October.

When entering data from registers for the database, use the three-letter abbreviation for the month as given in the table: do not add a full stop (period).

The Quakers (or Religious Society of Friends) preferred not to use names derived from heathen gods and goddesses. This affected their use of some names for days of the week and for months. So, be prepared for dates in Quaker records to have numbers, either with or without words: for example, "… the first month so called March …". You may come across similar practices when transcribing other non-conformist registers.

Month order, before and from 1752
Month Abbr. Old …also New
March Mar 1 3
April Apr 2 4
May May 3 5
June Jun 4 6
July Jul 5 7
August Aug 6 8
September Sep 7 7ber 9
October Oct 8 8ber 10
November Nov 9 9ber 11
December Dec 10 10ber 12
January Jan 11 1
February Feb 12 2

Numbers

Numbers in old parish registers may be written using our familiar Hindu-Arabic digits or Latin (Roman) numerals. They may also be written as words, either in English or Latin.

Most of the Latin used in parish registers is from 1538 to about 1640, and many clergy stopped using Latin before 1600. From 1733, entries had to be made in English.

Latin numbers

The Latin numerals are I (capital i, standing for one), V (5), X (10), L (50), C (100), D (500) and M (1,000). The numerals may also be written in lower case, where the last i in a group, or a single i, may be written as a j.

A long number in Latin, such as the year MCMLXVI, takes some working out. The LXVI part is easy enough: for numerals placed from left to right in order of value, starting with the largest, just add the values together, giving 50 + 10 + 5 + 1 = 66.

In the MCM part, a C followed by an M, a larger value, means 100 less than 1000, or 900. So MCM is 1000 + 900 = 1900. The complete date is thus 1900 + 66 = 1966.

CM (900) is an example of subtractive notation. The other pairs are IV (5 - 1 = 4), IX (9), XL (40), XC (90), and CD (400).

Words

Some clerics wrote numbers in Latin words. Fortunately, most of the Latin words, even if you never learnt them, will seem familiar, because many of our English number words are based on Latin. Occasionally a mixture of Latin and English was used.

Latin numbers as written in dates
Cardinal (counting) numbers Ordinal (ordering) words  
Hindu-
Arabic
Latin
numeral
Latin word English Latin You may
also see
1 i (or), j unus (on the) first primo
2 ii, ij duo second secundo iid
3 iii, iij tres third tertio
4 iv, iiij quattuor fourth quarto
5 v quinque fifth quinto vth
6 vi, vj sex sixth sexto
7 vii, vij septem seventh septimo
8 viii, viij octo eighth octavo
9 ix, viiii, viiij novem ninth nono
10 x decem tenth decimo
11 xi, xj undecim eleventh undecimo
12 xii, xij duodecim twelfth duodecimo
13 xiii, xiij tredecim thirteenth decimo tertio
14 xiv quattuordecim fourteenth decimo quarto
15 xv quindecim fifteenth decimo quinto
16 xvi, xvj sedecim sixteenth decimo sexto
17 xvii, xvij septendecim seventeenth decimo septimo
18 xviii, xviij octodecim (or)
duodeviginti
eighteenth
two from twentieth
decimo octo (or)
duodevicesimo
19 xix undeviginti nineteenth
one from twentieth
decimo nono
undevicesimo
20 xx viginti twentieth vicesimo xxtie
21 xxi, xxj viginti unus twenty first vicesimo primo
30 xxx triginta thirtieth tricesimo xxxtie
40 xl quadraginta
50 l, L quinquaginta
60 lx sexaginta
70 lxx septuaginta
80 lxxx octoginta
90 xc nonaginta
100 c, C centum
200 cc ducenti
500 d, D quingenti
1000 m, M mille

Regnal years

In some registers, especially before 1760, you may find that the clergyman has written the year as a regnal year, looking something like this: 30 Hen VIII. It means the thirtieth year of the reign of Henry the eighth. Now, Henry's reign began on 22 Apr 1509, the day after his father, Henry VII, died. So, the thirtieth year of Henry VIII's reign began 29 years later, on 22 Apr 1538; it ended on 21 Apr 1539.

30 Hen VIII
The regnal year, 30 Hen VIII

Originally, a first regnal year started on the day of the coronation of a new monarch: there was no notion of year zero. When Edward I became King in 1239 (and from then onwards), the first (and subsequent) regnal year started on the day the reign was deemed to have begun (i.e. before the actual coronation ceremony). Often, but not always, this was the day the previous monarch died.

In the table below, you will find the start and end days for the first and last regnal years of every monarch from 1509 to 1820. These will help you to translate most regnal dates to a calendar date. If the monarch you are interested in has a footnote, please read it: the information there will help you with the few remaining awkward monarchs and years.

Translating to a calendar date

Suppose you need to translate 15 Eliz. From the table, note that the year 1 Eliz ran from 17 Nov 1558 to 16 Nov 1559. So, her fifteenth year was 14 years later, from 17 Nov 1572 to 16 Nov 1573.

Sometimes it is easier to work backwards: the year 12 Gul III began two years before his final (fourteenth) year, on 28 Dec 1699. Unlike his final year, it ran a full twelve months, ending on 27 Dec 1700. (Gul is short for Gulielmus, the Latin for William.)

This final example is only a little trickier: 4 Gul III. You will need to look at the table: if you are still puzzled, read the footnote. Hover to see the translation.

Context is everything

It is quite possible that the regnal years you see in a particular register will not make sense if you follow the table exactly: clergy made mistakes about ends/starts of regnal years; and news didn't always travel fast, so weeks could go by before tales of a monarch's demise reached a village. Be guided by the flow of register dates.

Regnal years from 1509 to 1820
Monarch Year spanning Written
Henry VIII 22 Apr 1509 – 21 Apr 1510 1 Hen VIII
22 Apr 1538 – 21 Apr 1539 30 Hen VIII
22 Apr 1546 – 28 Jan 1546/7 38 Hen VIII
Edward VI 28 Jan 1546/7 – 27 Jan 1547/8 1 Edw VI
28 Jan 1552/3 – 06 Jul 1553 7 Edw VI
Lady Jane Grey [1] 06 Jul 1553 – 19 Jul 1553
Mary I [2] 06 Jul 1553 – 05 Jul 1554 1 Mar
06 Jul 1558 – 17 Nov 1558 6 Mar
Elizabeth I 17 Nov 1558 – 16 Nov 1559 1 Eliz
17 Nov 1599 – 16 Nov 1600 42 Eliz
17 Nov 1602 – 24 Mar 1602/3 45 Eliz
James I 24 Mar 1602/3 – 23 Mar 1603/4 1 Jac
24 Mar 1624/5 – 27 Mar 1625 23 Jac
Charles I 27 Mar 1625 – 26 Mar 1626 1 Chas
27 Mar 1648 – 30 Jan 1648/9 24 Chas
The Commonwealth 30 Jan 1648/9 to 29 May 1660 Calendar dates
Charles II [3] 30 Jan 1648/9 – 29 Jan 1649/50 1 Chas II
30 Jan 1659/60 – 29 Jan 1660/1 12 Chas II
30 Jan 1684/5 – 06 Feb 1684/5 37 Chas II
James II [4] 06 Feb 1684/5 – 05 Feb 1685/6 1 Jac II
06 Feb 1687/8 – 11 Dec 1688 4 Jac II
Interregnum 12 Dec 1688 – 13 Feb 1688/9 No monarch
William III & Mary II 13 Feb 1688/9 – 12 Feb 1689/90 1 Gul III
13 Feb 1693/4 – 27 Dec 1694 6 Gul III
William III [5] 28 Dec 1694 – 27 Dec 1695 7 Gul III
28 Dec 1701 – 08 Mar 1701/2 14 Gul III
Anne 08 Mar 1701/2 – 07 Mar 1702/3 1 Ann
08 Mar 1713/4 – 01 Aug 1714 13 Ann
George I 01 Aug 1714 – 31 Jul 1715 1 Geo
01 Aug 1726 – 11 Jun 1727 13 Geo
George II 11 Jun 1727 – 10 Jun 1728 1 Geo II
11 Jun 1760 – 25 Oct 1760 34 Geo II
George III 25 Oct 1760 – 24 Oct 1761 1 Geo III
25 Oct 1819 – 29 Jan 1820 60 Geo III

Source: Sweet & Maxwell's Guide to Law Reports and Statutes, 4th edition, 1962, pp 27–31.

Footnotes

  1. Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed queen on 06 Jul 1553 but never crowned: Mary was proclaimed queen on 19 Jul 1553 and Jane was later beheaded for treason.
  2. Mary I reigned alone, with her regnal start date adjusted to 06 Jul 1553, until her marriage to Philip of Spain on 25th Jul 1554. Then they reigned together until Mary's death in 1558. You may come across regnal years written in a style that includes both monarchs. They translate as follows:
    • 1 Mary : 06 Jul 1553 to 05 Jul 1554
    • 2 Mary : 06 Jul 1554 to 24 Jul 1554
    • 1 & 2 Philip and Mary: 25 Jul 1554 to 05 Jul 1555
    • 1 & 3 Philip and Mary: 06 Jul 1555 to 24 Jul 1555
    • 2 & 3 Philip and Mary; 25 Jul 1555 to 05 Jul 1556
    • 2 & 4 Philip and Mary: 06 Jul 1556 to 24 Jul 1556
    • 3 & 4 Philip and Mary; 25 Jul 1556 to 05 Jul 1557
    • 3 & 5 Philip and Mary: 06 Jul 1557 to 24 Jul 1557
    • 4 & 5 Philip and Mary; 25 Jul 1557 to 05 Jul 1558
    • 4 & 6 Philip and Mary: 06 Jul 1558 to 24 Jul 1558
    • 5 & 6 Philip and Mary: 25 Jul 1558 to 17 Nov 1558
  3. Charles II — although he was not made king until 29 May 1660, his first regnal year was backdated to begin on 30 Jan 1648/9, the day his father was beheaded. Thus the first actual year of his reign was his twelfth regnal year officially: the context of previous register entries should make it clear how a particular clergyman counted the years.
  4. James II officially abdicated on 11 Dec 1688, the day he fled London.
  5. William and Mary reigned together until Mary's death in 1694. William's regnal start day was then reset so that his 7th year began prematurely on 28 Dec, the day after Mary's death.