Posted by on May 22, 2014 in Collections

There is no doubt about it: Quaker dating in letters and meeting minutes is confusing! When you begin researching Quaker records, you may be tempted to “correct” the dates that you find. You would not be alone in thinking this way. Let’s take a look at the reasoning behind the Quaker calendar and dating practices and how to interpret them.

Early Friends objected to the names of the days and months in the English language because they were of a non-Christian origin. Sunday was called as such by the Saxons because it was the day they sacrificed to the sun. Monday was the day they sacrificed to the moon; Thursday was the day they sacrificed to the god Thor; and so on. Quakers thought it inconsistent for Christians to continue using the names of heathen idols. In an effort to distance themselves from these references, they created their own calendar terms using numbers, which seemed to them to be the most rational approach. Days of the week were known as “First Day” for Sunday, “Second Day” for Monday, and so forth. They used no other names but these, either in their spoken conversations or in their letters. Similarly, the months of the year were known as “First Month” for January, “Second Month” for February, and so forth. If you were a Quaker, you were expected to adopt these practices in your daily life.

Conversion Chart to Help Determine Correct Day for Quaker Records 

Quakers1st Day2nd Day3rd Day4th Day5th Day6th Day7th Day
Non-QuakersSundayMondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFridaySaturday

An Example

To familiarize you with how this appears in written form, let’s look at an example from the records. The births for the children of Thomas and Elizabeth Woolman Deacon are listed in Quaker vernacular.

 

From: List of Members, 1830-1874, page 90, Mt. Holly Monthly Meeting, Burlington County, New Jersey. Ancestry.com. U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1994. [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data: Swarthmore, Quaker Meeting Records. Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania

From: List of Members, 1830-1874, page 90, Mt. Holly Monthly Meeting, Burlington County, New Jersey. Ancestry.com. U.S., Quaker Meeting Records, 1681-1994. [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data: Swarthmore, Quaker Meeting Records. Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania

Here is a translation into modern form:

  • Uriah was born February 21, 1831
  • Rebecca was born May 9, 1832
  • James was born June 2, 1834
  • Twins, John and Hannah were born July 30, 1836
  • Martha was born December 10, 1838
  • Elizabeth was born March 2, 1841

Converting Months Before and After 1752

It starts getting interesting when you are looking at records prior to the calendar change which took place in 1752. The Julian calendar started in March and ended in February. Here is a handy chart for reference:

Rest of the World Wrote Quaker Terms Were WrittenRest of the World WroteQuaker Terms Were Written
Julian (pre-1752)Julian (pre-1752)Gregorian (post-1752)Gregorian (post-1752)
March (first day of the year was March 25)1st month, Marchi or 1 mo.3rd month, Marchiii or 3rd mo.
April2nd month, Aprilii or 2 mo.4th month, Apriliv or 4th mo.
May3rd month, Mayiii or 3 mo.5th month, Mayv or 5th mo.
June4th month, Juneiv or 4 mo.6th month, Junevi or6th mo.
July5th month, Julyv or 5 mo.7th month, Julyvii or 7th mo.
August6th month, Augustvi or 6 mo.8th month, Augustviii or 8th mo.
September7th month, Septembervii or 7 mo.9th month, Septemberix or 9th mo.
October8th month, Octoberviii or 8 mo.10th month, Octoberx or 10th mo.
November9th month, Novemberix or 9 mo.11th month, Novemberxi or 11th mo.
December10th month, Decemberx or 10 mo.12th month, Decemberxii or 12th mo.
January11th month, Januaryxi or 11 mo.1st month, Januaryi or 1st mo.
February12th month, Februaryxii or 12 mo.2nd month, Februaryii or 2nd mo.

In Summary

The best policy when researching original records is to write the dates the way that you see them. Some Quaker researchers have transposed the dates into what they thought were the “correct” dates. As you can imagine, these types of erroneous conversions could seriously affect the family stories. Misdating may lead you to erroneously conclude, for example, that a woman was pregnant prior to marriage or that the children were born after the family moved to a new meeting.

To learn more about Quaker dates and calendars, order my new book: Thee & Me: A Beginner’s Guide to Early Quaker Records. Available on Amazon.com, available as an eBook or in printed format. The printed book has dozens of illustrations and images, including a bonus chapter with a case study demonstrating step-by-step how to perform a successful search using the Quaker Collections on Ancestry.com.

2 Comments

Janna 

Glad you wrote this because today I came across a marriage record for two ancestors and there were conflicting dates some said April and others Jun. The actual record said fourth month so I thought April was correct.

May 23, 2014 at 6:16 pm
Gonna Lay This Body Down: Quaker Funerals & Burials 

[...] If there were any stones, they usually only provided the names of the deceased, their age or birth year, and date of death. (Here is a guide to understanding Quaker dates.) [...]

June 7, 2014 at 9:27 am

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