Sunday, February 4, 2024

Getting it on the (Right) Calendar


The other day, I ran across a snarky comment on a tree posted at Perhaps complaining about the many trees posted under a title which includes the phrase "work in progress," this subscriber noted something to the effect that every family tree is a work in progress. Almost as an afterthought, the next sentence warned, "Copy at your own risk."

Yet, here I am, wandering my way around abstracts of three hundred year old court documents, trying to piece together the story of my Carter, Chew, and Beverley ancestors from copied documents—and feeling stumped at every attempt to verify rather than simply copy. For instance, looking at one transcription of marriage licenses from a Spotsylvania County record book labeled "An Account of Ye Governor's Dues," I was glad to glean the date for John Chew's marriage to Margaret Beverley on June 26, 1729. But scanning over the rest of the page, I couldn't help but notice another possible related couple, Judith Beverley and her intended, Rodham Kenner. Their wedding date? Entered as June 1 of 1729-30. Say what?

Oh, yeah, I remembered: isn't that around the time they switched calendars? The time when dates became double-barreled because everyone had to play catch-up for cheating days out of previous years? So, which year was that marriage, I wondered. I'll need to get it on the right calendar.

Sure enough, checking the FamilySearch wiki for a quick take on the situation, a simple background explanation told me that the switch went from the Julian calendar—instituted by Julius Caesar—to the Gregorian calendar of Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. All was not so smoothly executed, however, since not all the world's countries followed the Catholic holiday traditions. England, notably, held out for political reasons until finally relenting in 1752.

Part of the process of making the shift from the one calendar to the other was a requisite relinquishing of ten days from the year, in addition to moving the New Year's Day designation from the month of March to the beginning of January. The dates between January 1 and March 25 therefore represented enigmatic territory—did the clerk rely on the old calendar, or decide to make the switch to the new year and new calendar? Depending on where in the vast British Empire that record-keeper might have lived, a date like today during those years might have been in 1751 or 1752, depending on when that locality celebrated New Year—thus, the double-barreled appearance of dates such as 4 February 1751/1752.

The problem with just now entering that world of double-barreled dates in my own research—after all, I've never been this way before—is that I can't be entirely sure whether such entries were owing to the actual clerk's report or an inaccurate transcription. Looking at that entry in question today—that of the marriage of Rodham Kenner and Judith Beverley on June 1 "1729-30"—could be due to the calendar change (though a much earlier year than the stated British change in 1752), or it could be due to some other clerical mis-entry in the record book itself. The only way I can know for sure would be to inspect the original record for myself.

We'll be exploring more about Judith Beverley and her beau, Rodham Kenner, in the weeks to come, as we learn about all the in-laws of my sixth great-grandfather, John Chew of Spotsylvania County in colonial Virginia. In fact, as I go through the process of adding many of these family names from old transcriptions—then verifying them through other documents—the numbers on my family tree are swelling. In the past two weeks, I've added another 452 names to my tree, which now contains 37,502 individuals. Still, I have yet to further verify many of them, as several digitized record sets from this time period and location are still browse-only at—if even available online at all.

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