Thursday, 11 October 2012

Late wedding date

Every family tree contains individuals and events that might be considered scandalous or amusing according to the bias of the observer. One of these snippets can form the starting point for a conversation that might engage family members who find the more scholarly aspects of genealogical research uninteresting.

I believed the tale of a several times great grandmother whose first task after giving birth was to get married fell into that category, but was deflated when my listener insisted that I had misinterpreted the calendar. I needed to learn about Lady Day.

The Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin (25 March) was known as [Our] Lady['s] Day. Along with Midsummer Day (24 June), Michaelmas (29 September) and Christmas (25 December), it formed the Quarter Days that divided the year. Although our immediate assumption is that these days mark the end of each quarter year, until 1752 they were treated as beginnings.

In particular, Lady Day was regarded as the first day of the New Year. This meant that January and February fell at the end of the old year (except in Scotland, where the heathens insisted on celebrating January 1).

So in this chronological list of marriages in Doncaster, 11 February 1579 comes after 21 December 1579 but just a few weeks before 17 April 1580.

When this (pre-Gregorian) calendar was in use, it was not unusual for a wedding to be celebrated in May and the christening in February of the same year. Indeed, it would have been quite common.

With this new-found knowledge I have resolved to exercise great care in interpreting dates on any pre-1760 English records.

But does it alter my story?

The marriage I had identified took place late in the nineteenth century when the western calendar was in its modern form, so the facts are clear. Interpretation is, of course, another matter entirely.

Was the wedding delayed until after the birth by the young couple, their families, or the celebrant? One possibility is that the father/groom was employed elsewhere and unable to return in time for the ceremonies to occur in the customary sequence. Which suggests another line of investigation…

Footnote: While this has enabled me to learn more about a fascinating aspect of our history, I will probably continue to associate Lady Day with God Bless the Child rather than the calendar.

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