Please Note: This article is written for users of the following Microsoft Excel versions: 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Office 365. If you are using an earlier version (Excel 2003 or earlier), this tip may not work for you. For a version of this tip written specifically for earlier versions of Excel, click here: Using Early Dates.

Using Early Dates

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated September 18, 2020)

5

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 Charley Kyd's site:

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

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (11082) applies to Microsoft Excel 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019, and Excel in Office 365. You can find a version of this tip for the older menu interface of Excel 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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Comments

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What is 3 - 0?

2020-09-19 09:45:00

Philip

David, the format YYYY-MM-DD is already a worldwide standard in SQL ... it does make much more sense ...


2020-09-18 18:06:05

David Czuba

Sandy's suggestion and Peter's post make a lot of sense. The format YYYYMMDD is useful for organizing folder and file structures too, since sorting in the operating system tends to be simple alphanumeric with no further options. Windows Explorer's sort works when the date contains hyphens, and OS X will even take slashes or other delimiters. I name files beginning with the date regardless of the file creation date, especially when it is a periodical article. If Microsoft abandoned or made legacy its date structure and instead pushed Sandy's format as the standard number format for dates, then the entire world might be on the same page with YYYY MM DD, instead of DD MM YYYY in the UK or MM DD YYYY in the U.S. Those formats are backward from normal place values of digits (from largest to smallest: i.e. thousands, hundreds, tens, ones, tenths, etc.)


2020-09-18 09:33:53

Sandy

You could give it the look of a date by using a custom format, it's not in the US normal notation, but it does make it obvious it is a date:
####"/"##"/"##


2019-09-19 07:41:59

Peter McNab

As a user of xdate, I like the idea of using a number like 18850425. You can simulate one date format with the custom format 0000-00-00 but would need a suite of udfs for date arithmetic.


2014-12-27 04:55:28

Roger

There's another tip on this web site that may also help

[Tombstone Date Maths](http://excel.tips.net/T005896_Tombstone_Date_Math.html)


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