Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happy Leap Year Birthday, Grandmother!

My grandmother, Ella Mitts Lawrence, was born on February 29, 1896. Her first birthday wasn’t celebrated until Feb 29, 1904.  So my grandma was 8 before she had her first birthday. I remember seeing an article written at the time about her not being able to celebrate until 1904. I would say this was considered very big news since it made a small town newspaper. I have no idea where the clip from the paper is at now. What a shame. 
I never knew my grandma who passed away in 1956. Unfortunately, not much information was passed along about my grandma. I know she was a devout Christian who never said a bad word about anyone.  Evidently she was well  thought of in our little community. I do know that she loved to garden and was very good at it. She passed away at the young age of 61. Heart attack. Reflecting back on my childhood and the stories that came with it- she was the glue that held the family together. Even being the youngest born she took on the role of mother to two of her nieces. Everyone loved coming home to Aunt Ella’s. Many, many memories were created by this woman who probably lived a very hard life. I wish I could have met her. 

We all know that February is a funny month -- every four years it has one extra day (February 29) instead of the normal 28 days. When February has 29 days, we call it a leap year.
The year 2000 was a leap year. But 1900 was not. And neither 1800 nor 1700 were leap years. But 1700, 1800, 1900 and 2000 are all divisible by 4, so why aren't they all leap years? And why do we have leap years in the first place?
Let's start with the concept of a year. We define a year to be the amount of time it takes for the Earth to make one complete orbit around the sun. The reason we care about our orbital position around the sun is because of the seasons. In the Northern Hemisphere, we expect summer weather to occur around June, July and August, and winter weather to occur in December, January and February.
A normal year is defined as 365 days. However, if you measure the exact amount of time it takes for the Earth to orbit the sun, the number is actually 365.242199 days (according to Encyclopedia Britannica). By adding one extra day to every fourth year, we get an average of 365.25 days per year, which is fairly close to the actual number. To get even closer to the actual number, every 100 years is not a leap year, but every 400 years is a leap year. That brings the average length of the year to 365.2425 days, which is very close to the actual number.
Putting all of these rules together, you can see that a year is a leap year not only if it is divisible by 4 -- it also has to be divisible by 400 if it is a centurial year. So 1700, 1800 and 1900 were not leap years, but 2000 was.
This is related to the Year 2000 problem, because many computer programs would have calculated the leap year incorrectly in the year 2000.

Name:Ella Mitts
Birth Date:Feb 1896
Home in 1900:StewartsvilleGrantKentucky
Relation to Head of House:Daughter
Marital Status:Single
Father's Name:Robert Mitts
Father's Birthplace:Kentucky
Mother's name:Nannie Mitts
Mother's Birthplace:Kentucky
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