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.

Using Early Dates

Written by Allen Wyatt (last updated January 1, 2020)
This tip applies to Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003


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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 the following site:

http://www.exceluser.com/formulas/earlydates.htm

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.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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What is five less than 5?

2020-11-10 13:24:46

Freddy E Mendez

HI Allen, thanks for the tip on working on early dates in Excel.
The second option mentioned YYYYMMDD works fine when sorting dates where the year is 0 or 1 (if you don't allow year 0, as in the Julian calendar). I tried adding a negative sign for years previous to 0, but sorting fails when in addition to the year information we have information of month and day, in this case the sorting interprets, for instance, January still being the "youngest" month rather than the oldest one (as in a date earlier than year 0 should be interpreted. One not very clean solution that works for me is using the following format for "negative" years: -YYYY.ssMMDD, where ss are two digits that allow me to order dates within a year (pretty much regardless month and day values).
For instance, -2300.900412 and -2300.800627 two events occured both in year -2300, one on April 12 and the second on Jun 27th will be correctly sorted because the ss digits 90 and 80.
Also by using for years the non decimal part, it allows to go back as far as I need (for instance if I want to include in my spreadsheets very ancient dates as in geological dates. Again, although this works fairly well, I was interested in looking for a more elegant but still practical solution for real ancient dates.
Thanks.
Freddy Mendez


2019-09-18 07:20:23

Kieran Gray

Hello - Can you please assist? I checked for the XDATE plugin / add-in, but can no longer find it. Do you have any suggestions? Thank you, Kieran


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