Historical Date Formats

  • Skill Level: Advanced, Intermediate, and New User
  • FH versions: V4, V5, V6, and V7
  • In Topics: Facts 


At various periods of time and in different places, dates have been expressed in a format other than the day-month-year or month-day-year format we’re all accustomed to; nor has the calendar always flowed smoothly and steadily — there are instances where a number of days were ‘skipped’ when a country adjusted its calendar.  You will come across Sources that record Dates in ways you might not be familiar with, and/or which need careful interpretation.

Quarter Dates (England and Wales Civil Registration)

Births, Marriages, and Deaths have been registered centrally in England and Wales since 1837 in Quarter Years. The Quarters are January to March, April to June, July to September, and October to December. If you do not have a copy certificate for a BMD event, but have a GRO Index entry, found for example by searching the UK Government General Register Office website, you will only know the Quarter Date when the event was registered.

How Family Historian deals with this

Family Historian recognizes quarter dates. Either enter the year and then using the three dot icon, choose the Quarter Date tab and amend or include the quarter date in the date based field e.g. Q2 1962.

The GEDCOM standard doesn’t support the Quarter format for dates and so if, for example, Q1 1970 is entered ƒh records the date within the GEDCOM file as ‘BET JAN 1970 AND MAR 1970’. This ensures that other applications that follow the GEDCOM standard are able to interpret the quarter dates correctly.

This also works the other way round, so that if you record a date in Family Historian as btw Oct 1970 and Dec 1970, you will see that it is displayed as: Q4 1970.

Those quarter date modes are governed by Tools > Preferences using the Use Quarter Day Display Format option on the General Tab.

Dates with Double Years

Between 1582 and 1752 in the UK, dates sometimes have two years mentioned, separated by a / e.g. 24 March 1748/9.

In short this was because, correctly, some recorders treated 25th March as the then New Year’s Day, whilst others used, as we do now ,1st January. Thus this is only relevant for dates between 1st January and 24th March.

You may therefore see an entry for, say, 24th March 1750, which dependent on which system the recorder was using, may mean 1749, if they were using the Julian Calendar (the year runs April to March), or 1750 if they were using the Gregorian (January to December). Another transcriber might include both systems, arriving at the 24 March 1749/50 entry.

For the UK and its Dominions, then including North America, in 1752 Parliament ceased this duel system making 1st January New Year. Note that other countries to the UK differ in their dates, please see external links for more detail.

How Family Historian deals with this

You should enter a ‘double date’ in the format e.g. 24 Mar 1701/02; Family Historian will recognise it as a date. (Do not enter e.g. 24 Mar 1701/2, as you will be prompted to save it as a Date Phrase. It will appear as “24 Mar 1701/2” and will be useless for purposes of calculations etc. as Family Historian will not recognize it as a date.)

Alternatively, click on the Date Entry Assistant button when you get to the Date field, and use the fields there, choosing Gregorian as the Calendar.

Or, enter the date in the Record Window, click on the Date Entry Assistant button and then use the interpreter option in the Date Phrase tab to state the date as you want it.

Whatever way you chose, Family Historian will then recognize the date and calendar and calculate accordingly.

Further Reading

We have a more detailed article on Using the Julian and Gregorian Calendars.

Quaker Dates

Historically, Quakers objected to the names of days and months in English because of their non-Christian origin.  Instead, they referred to days and months by numbers. See Quaker Calendars & Dates for a fuller explanation.

How Family Historian deals with this

You cannot record a Quaker Date in ƒh; you must translate it into the more usual date format.

Regnal Years and Ecclesiastical Dates

The further back you go in history in the UK, the more likely you are to find official and legal documents referring to Regnal Years, that is a year counted from the official date (year month and day) of the accession of the current Monarch. Wikipedia has a detailed article on this, but for practical purposes, you should use Ian’s English Calendar to convert from a Regnal Year.

Ecclesiastical Dates express a date in terms of the moveable and fixed holidays in the Christian Church.  Use Ian’s English Calendar  to determine when a holiday or other important period fell.

How Family Historian deals with this

You cannot record Regnal or Ecclesiastical Dates in ƒh; you must convert them first.

Last update: 22 Feb 2024