Date conventions for emigrant/immigrant ship sailings

+9 votes

Up to now, the standard practice for categories for sailings of ships carrying immigrants is to name them in the format:

[[Shipname, sailed Month day, year]]

for example, the guide to categories for emigrant-immigrant ships points to:


To be honest, I've never been entirely comfortable with that standard, because while it is the usual American usage, it is not the standard usage in most countries of the world. (If you want to learn more about that, Wikipedia has a handy chart that explains, among other things, that that particular date format is only the fourth most commonly used system in the world.) And, since we are at least trying to build a global family tree, rather than an American family tree, it seemed to me that it would behoove us to use a system which isn't quite so strongly identified with one particular place. (On the other hand, that could just be because I'm Canadian, since Canada is the only country in the world which steadfastly refuses to make up its mind, and thus uses three different date orders. [Or at least, so says Wikipedia.])

However, the Month, Day, Year format was well entrenched before I joined WikiTree, and changing it seemed to be too much like work.

Now, Malcolm has pointed out in another thread that the date format:


is an ISO standard. (Specifically, ISO 8601, if you're interested.)

This system makes a lot of sense for a number of reasons:

  1. It's an international standard, so adopting it would not be a matter of favouring one country's habits over another, but rather accepting an already recognised standard.
  2. Unlike those formats which put the year last, which can be unclear as to which part is the month and which part is the day (at least up until the 13th of each month), it's unambiguous.
  3. Switching to this format would make the sailings by a particular ship automatically sort into chronological order.

On the other hand, switching would still entail a lot of work.

Therefore, Categorizers (or Categorisers, as you prefer), please comment one of the following answers, and, optionally, give your reasons. 

in The Tree House by Greg Slade G2G6 Pilot (444k points)
retagged by Ellen Smith
If you left out the correct answer: dd mm yyyy

Since this question is focused on dates, I replaced one of the six G2G tags with dates.

I have read through all the threads that Ellen referenced, and I have a problem: in several threads, people have made the claim that DD MM YYYY is "the genealogical standard". However, not one of them pointed to any source anywhere, and since "genealogy without sources is mythology", that forces me to only one conclusion....

There is no single standard and I don't think you will get people to agree to one.  I prefer dd-mm-yyyy (e.g. 10 March 1665) as I think it is a little less prone to confusion and error as to the intended date.  

The supposed iso standard with the year first just looks wrong/dumb and goes against any standard that has been used for the last 2000 years (have you ever seen any medieval document, 17th century parish record, or even a modern vital record where the year was put first?).  I would never use it.

5 Answers

+8 votes

If you want to switch to using YYYY-MM-DD, please comment on this answer.

by Greg Slade G2G6 Pilot (444k points)
I have to admit that as a relatively new WikiTreer, I’ve not used these particular categories yet. But as a retired software developer, I’m def a fan of having data/fields that are sortable without manipulation.
No, I would not like to switch to this one. While it may be more easy for the computer to read, it is more difficult for humans in the UK and some other European countries who are accustomed to seeing day before month.
And, yes, as if it wasn't clear from the question, this is my preference.
I switched myself to using yyyy-mm-dd (and hh:mm:ss) years ago as I use computers so much and it makes sorting easy. ISO8601 also parallels the official international postal standard for addresses which is :

Country, region, city, street, number!

This makes sense from the postal workers sorting point of view. Canada vs China more important than 10 Market Road.
+4 votes
If you want to keep using MMMM, DD, YYYY, please comment on this answer.
by Greg Slade G2G6 Pilot (444k points)
Either stick to this one or chance to DD MMMM YYYY
+5 votes
If you're willing to go along with whatever the majority chooses, please comment on this answer.
by Greg Slade G2G6 Pilot (444k points)

Greg, I’ve no problem with either, and if there is a change, then I’ll just get used to it. I grew up with mm dd yyyy, but I’ve started getting used to dd mm yyyy. And if there is another change where the year comes first, then I’ll just get used to that. And I’ll get over thinking that the world should just follow my country (USA)! smiley

+9 votes
For dates that are intended to be read by humans (which would the case of dates found in category names), I much prefer the format represented by examples "23 February 1802" and "6 March 1803". This format should be universally recognizable, it avoids the ambiguity found in formats that use month numbers, and it avoids commas (which can make messy category names).

I don't think humans should try to emulate computers by using formats like YYYY-MM-DD.

Additionally, note that WikiTree convention indicates that words like "sailed" and "arrived" should begin with an uppercase letter when used in a category name.

ADDED: Piping can be used to force multiple sailings of the same ship to appear in correct date order.
by Ellen Smith G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
I also like to see the word for the month written out unambiguously.  12 February  or even February 12 are clear to everyone.
but Quakers did not like month names and I assume they still do not  so the number only thing will still be around and can be messed up easily
Re quakers, especially pre 1752, its  very important to be unambiguous in the bio  ie an original text that says  10th day 11th month 1671 would be coventionally , 10 January 1671/2 . (In a wiki tree date field, 10 Jan 1671)Some more sophisticated genealogical software allows the entry input of quaker dates and also other systems such as French revolutionary dates .
AFAIK the usual genealogical standard is DD (in numbers) MMM (in letters) YYYY (in numbers). I would like to see the dates that way because I think that way they are the most unambiguous.
Quaker dates should appear in the text of biographies when we are citing records recorded in that form, but they create way too much confusion to be suitable for use in contexts like category names.

The "genealogical standard" exists for interfacing with computers. It's used in Wikitree profile data fields, but that doesn't mean it's the best or only way to communicate with other living people. For biographies and category names, I prefer to spell out the names of months and not have leading zeroes in the "day" field.
+5 votes

Would not use the y-m-d format, all very well for ISO but our ancestors would be confused by it.  wink

Whether D-M-Y or M-D-Y, the month needs to be written out in letters and not numbers, too easy to mistake otherwise, and crossing languages makes it even likelier that they will be interpreted wrong.  Have often seen people put reversed M-D in profiles due to that exact fact that they were looking at French records which go D-M standardly, following the flow of the language.  

A few sources have gone over to ISO usage but that is computer related more than anything.  Unless used to the system, it's easy to mistake M-D/D-M.  Cinco de Maio anybody?  

by Danielle Liard G2G6 Pilot (402k points)
edited by Danielle Liard
I agree that the standard adopted should use letters for the month and numbers for the year and day; everything else can be ambiguous. (According to the Wikipedia chart, Khazak and Latvian use YDM, and if someone accustomed to DMY is told to put the year first, he could very well end up with YDM as well, so the ISO standard suggested above Doesn't Work for disambiguation.)

The Hungarian practice is to use Roman numerals for the month and Arabic numbers for the day and year, e.g. 1848. III. 15. This has the advantage of not needing to choose a language for the month name or abbreviation. The disadvantage is that in some fonts, January and February end up looking like one and eleven. (They wouldn't in G2G and WT: even though both default to various sans-serif fonts in which capital i and lowercase L can be identical, they all add at least an upstroke on the numeral, so II and 11 look different.)

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