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  • Writer's pictureFiona Appleton-Thorn

Was Your Ancestor Buried Alive??

Assuming that it’s not normal practice to bury someone alive, it can be baffling to see entries in a Parish Register for a Burial date that comes before the record in the Death Register.

If you are viewing someone else’s tree in an online community or Family Tree building website, it can make you disregard all the entries on it as unreliable.

But let’s not be too hasty in dismissing either if there is some evidence to link the individual to your tree. What is not always obvious is something that could be staring you in the face- that the facts are TRUE!

Calendars did not always begin on January 1st. Before 1751 in England, Wales and the British Colonies years did not change until Lady Day which was March 25th. So any entries before 1752 must be viewed differently.

Here is an example for 1680:

March 25th-31st 1680 April 1680 May 1680 June 1680 July 1680 August 1680 September 1680 October 1680 November 1680 December 1680 January 1680 February 1680 March 1st-24th 1680

Seems straightforward… Until you come across an entry that throws your brain into utter confusion.

Example: Let’s say John Smith was born March 24th 1679, Baptized March 31st 1680, Died February 27th 1680 and was buried March 5th 1680.

Our brains are so used to our modern calendars that at first glance this says that John was just over 1 year old when he was baptized and that he was baptized after he was dead and buried.

The reality of events when you look at the calendar example above for 1680 make much more sense. John Smith born March 24th, 1679 was one week old when he was baptized. He was 11 months old when he died in February 1680 and was buried 5 days later.

This kind of confusion can also throw you in a loop about the date of death preceding the written will or when it was entered in probate. Record transcribers and publications do attempt to assist you with the difference in the calendar by showing entries like 1679/1680 or 1680/1. If you are ignoring entries in your searches because it looks like the person that made the entry did not know the exact date you may be completely wrong.

Some countries began their years on December 25th and others at Easter. It’s worth checking the Calendar changes for the geographical region and time period before you look at the Parish Registers or other records. Why did they change the Calendars?

The Julian Calendar was in place across Europe, the Americas and other European Settlements. Because it did not align with the solar year it kept losing time. Even adding days here and there did not keep in sync.

In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII introduced his Gregorian Calendar. Some regions refused to adopt the new calendar, including Great Britain and the British Colonies. Scotland conformed in 1600 but England, Wales and the Colonies (including America) stuck with their Julian Calendar until the change was made official by an Act of Parliament in 1750.

Short Years in 1751 and 1752 - These May Impact The Records You View

When looking at the historical records for the years 1751 and 1752, you have to look closely as they were still greatly affected by the changeover. 1751 ran from 25th March to 31st December (282 days) The next day of January 1st was 1752 instead of 1751. Even with this alteration the calendar was still behind by 11 days. So in September of that year another adjustment was made removing 11 days from the calendar as it was a leap year. (355 days) People went to bed on Wednesday 2nd September 1752 and awoke to Thursday 14th September 1752.

Wondering how the children who had birthdays due in those 11 days were disappointed? Chances are they didn't even notice as most people didn't celebrate birthdays as it was considered a Pagan practice.

How long it took people to figure out how old they were when the year changed abruptly? Most people didn't have a need to know exactly how old they were. Day to day life in a community or city was more important than even knowing which year it was for the lowest classes of society. For those of higher status they would have known that they were born in a specific year during the reign of a monarch. Our article on Regnal Years explains this in more detail if you're interested.

Missing a birthday, or forgetting your age, may still be better options than being buried alive!

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