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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice  by Louise St Denis, Brenda Dougall Merriman and Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Confusing Situations...

Changes in Boundaries

Here’s another confusing subject, locations that have changed names or boundaries during the course of history. Many amongst us probably know that New Amsterdam is now called New York or that Bytown is now called Ottawa, but there have been so many changes in names and boundaries that the average person could not be aware of all of them. I’m bringing this to your attention simply so that when you are stuck and can’t seem to find a solution, check to see if a name or boundary change took place. There are good reference books to assist you with this.

Ancestors may have caused some confusion too. They may have always said they came from, let’s say Paris, but in reality they came from a smaller village near Paris, but it was just easier to say Paris than having to explain where the smaller village was located.

Changes in the Calendars

Here’s another confusing matter. Do you know how the Julian or Gregorian calendars came about? Well here’s a short history lesson on our calendar. When Julius Caesar was in power, he knew that the calendars used prior to 46 B.C. were inaccurate. So he decided to bring the solar and lunar times together. He determined that the solar year was 365 days and 6 hours. So he decided that every four years, we would add one day to that year which we refer to as a leap year. Unfortunately his calculations were out by 11 minutes and 14 seconds, so by the year 1582 there was already a 10 day difference.

To correct this discrepancy Pope Gregory the 13th decided that leap year would not take place in any years that ended with two zeros unless the first two digits were able to be divided by 4. So the years 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not leap years, but the year 1600 and 2000 were. Not everyone made the change at the same time, Spain, Portugal and parts of Italy immediately changed their calendar. France followed the Pope’s lead later that same year. The Catholic German States changed in 1583. In 1700, the Protestant German States began using the Gregorian calendar and were followed by Sweden and Denmark.

England and her colonies did not accept this new Gregorian calendar until 1752. By that time, the difference was 11 days, so September 2nd 1752 was followed by September 14th. Many people added this 11 day discrepancy to their birth dates to reflect a more accurate date. The acceptance of the new calendar system also included common recognition of 1 January as the first day of the new year, instead of some former practices that recognized 25 March being the first day of the new year.

If you encounter a dating practice such as 13 February 1732/4, you will know that it means 1732 “old style” and 1734 “new style”. This dating practice applies to England and its colonies only before 1752 and between 1 January and 24 March.


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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses Methodology - Part 1: Getting Started, Methodology - Part 2: Organizing and Skillbuilding, Methodology - Part 3: More Strategies, Methodology - Part 4: Effective Searching and Recording, Methodology - Part 5: How To Prove It, and Methodology - Part 6: Professional Preparation and Practice offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about these courses or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.

  • This page was last modified on 15 April 2014, at 19:36.
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