Cemetery Musings: Strange Dates

A musing is defined in the dictionary as “a product of contemplation; a thought”.  As I wander through cemeteries, I am often thinking about the stones above the ground and the individuals that lie beneath. Why that epitaph, that symbol, that style of writing? These are just some of the “cemetery musings” that cross my mind.

While walking through old cemeteries, or even new ones, I am always interested in the dates. How old was the person when they died? What time period did they live in? One day I stumbled upon a date that baffled me. It looked like this:

Now what did this mean?  I started looking on the internet to see if I could find the reason. The answer was dual-year dating.

Dual-year dating occurred during a time of transition when the Gregorian calendar was replacing the Julian calendar. In the photo above, the first date, 1745, is from the Julian calendar and the second, 1746 (seen as /6), is from the Gregorian calendar. Throughout history several calendars have been in use. The Julian calendar, promulgated (to make, as a doctrine, known by open declaration) by Julius Caesar had 365.25 days as the average length of year. This differed from the solar year by about 11 minutes causing the calendar, over the centuries, to become more out of sync with the seasons. This was especially troublesome to the Roman Catholic Church since it effected the determination of the date of Easter.

After consulting several astronomers, Pope Gregory XIII chose the calendar formulated by Christopher Clavius, a Jesuit mathematician and astronomer. The Gregorian Calendar Reform was established on 2/24/1582. Among its provisions, ten days were omitted from that year’s month of October in order to get the calendar back in sync with the solar year; the rules for leap year were changed; the position of the extra day during a leap year was made the day following February 28; and new rules for determining Easter were adopted.

European countries who were Catholic quickly adopted the Gregorian calendars but those that were Protestant took longer to follow. England and its colonies didn’t officially adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752. By that time, the discrepancy between the Julian calendar and solar year had increased a full day, so England had to drop 11 days from the 1752 calendar when they made the switch.

Another issue was the recognition of which day was the first one of the new year; people celebrated it on days: January 1, March 1, March 25, or December 25. Prior to 1752, England and the colonies began the new year on Lady Day (March 25); thus March 24, 1751, was followed by March 25, 1752. When England adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, January 1 was also established as the first day of the new year; 1752 ended on December 31, and 1753 began on January 1.

Even though the Gregorian calendar had been officially adopted, the general population continued to use the Julian calendar. When looking at dates in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, those recorded under the Julian calendar were marked “O.S.” (Old Style) and those recorded under the Gregorian calendar were marked “N.S.” (New Style).  This was often true with documents, however what was typically seen on headstones was the use of a dual date.

Next time you are walking through a cemetery holding older stones, take a closer look at them…especially the date. See how many markers you can find bearing the dual date.
Information found at:

  • http://www.oldburialhill.org/pond/pond_cluster_01a.html#lattimer
  • http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~neff/dates.htm
  • http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/promulgate
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