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Using Early Dates

Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. If you are using a later version (Excel 2007 or later), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for later versions of Excel, click here: Using Early Dates.

There are three basic types of information that can be stored in a cell: numeric values, strings (text), and dates. In reality, dates are nothing more than numeric values, with the number being stored representing the number of days (and partial days for the time portion of a date) since January 1, 1900. This is a quick, handy way for Excel to store dates.

What happens, however, if you are doing genealogical or historical work and you need to keep track of dates that are earlier than 1/1/1900? There are essentially three ways you can approach this problem.

First, you can split up your dates. You could, for instance, include three columns for each date: one for day, one for month, and one for year. This, of course, will not allow you to change display formats for different date notations, but it will allow you to sort (using the column contents) as you desire, and to do rudimentary math on the dates. This approach to early dates can be the easiest to implement.

Another option is to use your own date notation for entering dates. For instance, if you wanted to enter the date for April 25, 1885, you could enter it as 18850425. This would be treated as a numeric value by Excel, which means you could do math based on the numbers. Because the notation has the year first, you could easily sort dates according to need. The only drawback to this method is that you cannot use Excel's date formatting, and you must get used to the notational syntax.

Finally, you can either create your own macros to work with out-of-range dates, or you can use a third-party solution. One such solution is found at John Walkenbach's site:


ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2382) applies to Microsoft Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. You can find a version of this tip for the ribbon interface of Excel (Excel 2007 and later) here: Using Early Dates.

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