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N is for New Style

Almost caught up on the Family History Through the Alphabet challenge! Today we’re talking about dates, dates and more dates – the topic is New Style vs. Old Style!

No, we’re not talking about fashions for an evening out, but rather different calendars. Up until 1918, the Russian Empire used the Julian calendar. Most European countries had already transitioned to the Gregorian calendar over a century earlier. Latvia gained independence from the Russian Empire in the years following the Russian Revolution, and also changed to the Gregorian calendar at this time.

This change in calendars is what sometimes leads to confusion regarding dates of events, particularly birthdates. In the years following independence, it was not unusual for people’s birthdates to be written in the style of “September 15/27″ – first the Old Style (Julian), then the New Style (Gregorian) – to show the change, in documents such as passports and house books. Maybe this was done to slowly acclimatize people to the new dates. But it is also possible that people may have continued using the old day to celebrate anyways – I mean, if you had been celebrating your birthday on September 15 for thirty years, wouldn’t it feel strange to start doing it on September 27 now? So people may still have recorded their birthdays with different dates, depending on the documents. So if you are trying to identify someone as your ancestor, and the birthdate in a Latvian record you find is within two weeks of the date you have, then it is a good chance that the person is your ancestor (barring other people with the same name in the same place, of course).

When making these notations in English, it is common to see “(N.S.)” and “(O.S.)” to indicate the calendar being used for the date. You will often see this in Wikipedia entries regarding people who were born in the Russian Empire (see Latvian writer Rainis as an example).

Do you have any date confusions you’d like me to take a look at? Let me know!

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