National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Change in Calendar - Dates in the Old Parish Registers

Change in Calendar - Dates in the Old Parish Registers

There are two significant and separate developments that affect dates in the Old Parish Registers (OPRs). The first was the adoption of 1 January as the first day of the year instead of 25 March. The second was the calendar reform which began in 1582 when some European countries replaced the old style Julian calendar with the new style Gregorian calendar. The latter was based on a more accurate calculation of the length of the year and required an adjustment of 10 days to align the calendar year with the solar year.

Change to start of the year in 1600

James VI proclaimed that Scotland should start the year on 1 January from 1600. Following the Union of the Crowns in 1603 he became James I of England but no such legal change took place south of the Border where the new year began on 25 March until 1752. As a result the same day in January, February or March (up to 24th) can be in different years. A system of double-dating was used in some legal documents, for example, 1 February 1699/1700 where 1699 refers to the year which began on 25 March 1699 and 1700 to the year which began on 1 January 1700.

Most OPRs do not have any pre-1600 entries but some date back to the late 16th century. The OPR for Edinburgh begins in 1595 and as there were relatively few registrations the session clerk has written the months covered by the entries at the top of each page. These examples illustrate the change to the start of the year in Scotland.

In the first from the register of marriages the year starts on 25 March. It gives the months January 1598, February 1598 and March 1598 followed by April 1599 and May 1599.

1598 and 1599 dates from the OPR for Edinburgh

Heading with 1598 and 1599 dates from OPR for Edinburgh (20 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, OPR 685-1/43, page 12

The second from the register of baptisms is at the point of the changeover from 25 March to 1 January and is headed December 1599 and January 1600.

1599 and 1600 dates from the OPR for Edinburgh

Heading with 1599 and 1600 dates from OPR for Edinburgh (14 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, OPR 685-1/1

Change to the Gregorian Calendar in 1752

Scotland, along with England, Ireland and Wales, formally adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752. This required a correction of 11 days and Parliament decided that Wednesday 2 September should be followed by Thursday 14 September with no intervening days numbered 3 to 13. This contemporary comment in the OPR for Inveraray and Glenaray provides an explanation:

'Upon the third of September this year the computation of time has been changed from the Julian to the Gregorian calculation so that the third day of September is reckoned the fourteenth NS and all the dates thereafter in the register are according to the Gregorian or new stile and all the former to the Julian or old stile.'

Detail from OPR about calendar change in September 1752

Detail from the OPR for Inveraray and Glenaray (68 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, OPR 513/2, page 196

Another reference to the change in calendars from old style to new style (NS) is found in the OPR for Glasgow. The first entry after the change to the Gregorian calendar is headed ‘Septr 17 1752 NS’.

Reference to new style calendar in the OPR for Glasgow

1752 marriage entry from the OPR for Glasgow (21 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, OPR 644-1/25, page 61

Further information

Days, dates and calendars from the Scottish Archive Network (SCAN) knowledge base provides background information about the Julian and Gregorian calendars as well as advice about double-dating in Scottish documents.

Dates from Scottish covers calendar years and the Latin for cardinal numbers, ordinal numbers, months, days of the week and phrases indicating time.