Family historyQuakers

Quaker dates and months warning

I posted a few months ago about dates and chronology, drawing attention to the excellent leaflet that Friends House have produced, but not really giving anyone unfamiliar with the reasons why it is relevant, or giving any real explanation.

Recently I have been researching the Dearman family of Hertfordshire, trying to find the birth or family of David Dearman, who marries Elizabeth Culledge on 19 April 1756, in Wallington, Hertfordshire. In the search for David Dearman’s birth, I have searched the records available on FindMyPast (FMP) for the Dearman family. At first, I restricted my search to Hertfordshire Dearmans, but when I failed to find the David Dearman I was searching for, I extended my search to the whole of the UK, compiling a database as I went along.

This may seem pointless and long-winded to some researchers, but I have found that you can learn a lot from gathering family information in this general way. Obviously, it would be something impossible to do with a common name like Clarke or Jones.  Dearman is not such a common name, except in particular places, and gathering the information for all of them does allow one to get a picture of the family groups and relationships between them. Making a database which can be sorted is even more useful, because you can then sort the data by date and see how the Dearman family spread through the country, making educated guesses at where they might have come from, using the dates, and how they might be connected, using a combination of date and place.

The reason the chronology became an issue, is that doing what I was doing, I was taking note of a child’s birth or baptism, their parent’s names, the places, and the information on the birth record. It quickly became clear that some records had been transcribed in different ways, making it look like there had been several William Dearman born where there had actually only been one.

Quakers used not to use the names of some of the months.  Some still don’t.  They had no objection to September, October, November, December, as these were derived from roman numbers (seven, eight, nine and ten).  However, they felt differently about other months in the year which were derived from pagan gods, like Mars for March, Janus for January, etc.  So instead of using the names of the month, they referred to first month, second month, third month. they also used first day, second day, as the days of the week were also named for pagan gods (like Woden for Wednesday).

However, it isn’t even as straightforward (!) as that seems. Before 1752, The “New Year” began on March 25, the notional resurrection of Jesus.  Thus first month is not January before this date, it’s March.  Twelfth month is not December, it’s February. What I discovered in the course of my gathering of material for the Dearman database, was that some of the births which took place at Balby Meeting in Yorkshire had been transcribed from the Quaker Records both correctly and incorrectly.  As FindMyPast gets information from Family Search, from civil registrations, and from parish and meeting records, this could mean that the same birth is recorded multiple times with multiple dates.

The years are not straightforward either.  Before 1752, January, February and the beginning of March were “in” the previous year.  So 1724 for example, went from March to March.  Now, some people simply record the year the way it would have been recorded in 1724.  That would mean that whether the baptism or birth was in June 1724 or in the following February, they still show it as 1724.  Other people use a slash and the date that we would assign to the year, to show that it was recorded contemporaneously in a different way than we would have recorded it.  On those records it will show as 1724/5. Here is the link to the Friends House Leaflet again.

Yet other people take a date which is shown with a slash and simply record it the way we would have done as 1725.

When you factor in all the variables, where someone may change the year, date, or get the month wrong because they don’t understand Eleventh month is January and not November, you can see that there is a lot of potential for the same event being recorded multiple times with different information.  The worst I found was seven entries with different information for the same Quaker birth.  Quakers do not baptize in the sense that Churches baptize, with water and a ceremony.  They believe in a baptism of the spirit, and not in outward ritual, and so the records of the births in a meeting are exactly that – births.  In some cases you can see that the transcriptions are simply mistaken because the same image is attached to the record. In other cases it is an educated guess, because there is no record attached.

So I would advise everyone researching Quaker events to be careful to consult the Friends House leaflet and understand why, before 1752, dates are not as simple as you might have thought.  Interestingly, this old system of having the New Year in March is why our ninth month, is labelled seventh month (September), and our tenth month is labelled as the eighth month (October). Our forebears didn’t misunderstand the Roman months…the months stayed where they were when New Year moved from March to January.

The image is from Pixabay of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Litta Madonna, 1480-1490.  You may be interested in this article about the painting.

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