Of course time of death matters!

Compiling and checking entries for our forthcoming book of historic anniversaries (The Date-A-Base Book) has turned out to be somewhat harder than I first thought. For not only do you need to know the date on which a particular event occurred, but also the time and place – and some of these little details are rather hard to come by.

Let’s say, for example, that an internationally famous celebrity dies at 2am in London on 1st June. If the news story is circulated quickly enough, it could easily make the 9pm or 10pm news in somewhere like Los Angeles – where it’s still 31st May.

So any US-based encyclopaedia compilers watching the news might eagerly write down that celebrity’s name and the date (31st May), making a note to dig out some facts on them for the next edition of the encyclopaedia. And so it will be dutifully (and as far as they’re concerned, correctly) recorded that this person died on 31st May.

Meanwhile, UK-based encyclopaedia compilers (plus the death certificate and the gravestone) will all give the date of death as 1st June.

Sensible encyclopaedia compilers will allow for this and adjust the date to 1st June, wherever they are in the world. But, as it turns out, not all of them are that sensible. Not even the ones that you’d really expect to get it right. So when you cross-check one encyclopaedia’s entry against another’s you find that they don’t match. Which is correct? Well, that’s when you need to know the time and place where it happened – or search the internet for a copy of the death certificate or a photo of their gravestone. (Try http://www.findagrave.com)

And even if they do get it right, there’s always a problem with public perception. Let’s say that someone is celebrating their birthday in Los Angeles on 31st May when they hear that their favourite celebrity has just died. They’ll always remember that date – he died on their birthday! And yet they look up that person’s entry in the next editon of the encyclopaedia and it says he died on 1st June. Now that just can’t be, they think to themselves. He definitely died on my birthday and my birthday is 31st May. And so a letter of complaint goes off to the compiler of the encyclopaedia. . .

Tricky stuff, eh.

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