Back in May I wrote about the Julian and Gregorian Calendars. The change in Britain to the Gregorian Calendar in 1752 caused great consternation. In those uneducated times, much of the populace was convinced that they were being robbed of eleven days of life.
Prior to 1752, when examining Parish registers and other records, researchers will find that each year begins with Lady Day (March 25) and ends on March 24. It takes a bit of getting used to, but with practice it becomes easy.
After the 1582 implementation of the Gregorian Calendar, scribes and record keepers in Britain would often use a double-dating system for clarification. For dates between January 1 and March 24, they would include both the Julian year and the Gregorian year. A slash was used to separate the two. Records might appear as:
15 January 1602/3
The Seventeenth of April 1729/30
Because not all scribes included the double date, the potential for confusion exists among modern researchers. When genealogies started to be published in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, editors created a way to clarify for modern readers.
Square brackets are used in text for editorial clarification. They are used to signify that information contain within them does not actually appear in the original. For records where both dates do not appear, the Julian date was used, and the Gregorian date would be added in square brackets. To use the same examples from above, had the Gregorian year not been included, one would see the date in print thus:
15 January 1602[/03]
The Seventeenth of April 1729[/30]
Until the Gregorian Calendar was implemented in 1582, Britain used the Julian calendar along with the rest of Europe. Thus double-dating was not required. Modern readers, however, often have trouble grasping the concept. This is especially true when they had to calculate dates, say from a headstone where the age at death is given as x years, x months, and x days. The year would often be written incorrectly if the date fell between January 1 and March 24. Modern editors started to include the Gregorian date for earlier times, to remind readers of the calendar difference.
Unfortunately, today many people have lost sight of this fact. They think that the double-dating existed for all time previous to 1752. They have also lost sight of the meaning of square brackets. Remember, whenever you see square brackets, that information did NOT appear in the original. It is used only to make it easier for the reader to comprehend.
Genealogy database programs are starting to help correct this problem. They only allow double dating for the seventy years in which it is appropriate, 1582 to 1752. For those who need clarification, enter the correct date, then put an adjustment with the double date in the note field. That way you can remind yourself of the calendar change. Remember, however, that in all instances, the date should be entered as it appeared in the original document. If the double date did not appear in the original, it should be included in square brackets when writing, and in the note field if your genealogy database program does not allow this.