How do you remember years? [POLL]

I’ve started to develop my own scalable personal history system for remembering dates and historical events. But the extent of the information available to stuff away in the dovecotes of my mind surpasses anything else I’ve ever done. So, here’s a poll to see how others do it. I would like it much more if your system allowed for an easy way to append a month and a day. If there’s something that doesn’t fit the available types, please leave a post for how yours works. Thanks for your help!

  • two two-digit pairs to associated memory images using Major system
  • two two-digit pairs to associated memory images using some form of a PAO system
  • three-digits to memory image, extra image if not greater than 1000-1999 (Johannes Mallow)
  • measured distance grid for century, two-digit image for remaining decade and year
  • significant location on journey for century, estimate for decade and year
  • building or background for century, two-digit image for remaining decade and year
  • ignore century, two-digit image for decade and year

0 voters


As I was thinking how I would answer, I realized I am rather inconsistent in handling centuries. That’s because I typically approach dates in a couple different ways.

  1. My main interest is day-to-day use, for work, appointments, special dates (e.g.: birthdays) and so forth. For these, I mostly care about months together with day-of-week and/or day-of-month. I may care about year, but somewhat less so: often just to extract day-of-week; other times as special date within the centuries of my existence, i.e.:, 1900’s or 2000’s. More often than not, I don’t care much about the century in these cases because the context of the subject being memorized gives it away.

  2. When it comes to most historical information, especially before the 20th century, I rarely care about month and day. in those cases, I have 2 approaches
    i - I want the year and century
    ii - I want a strong intuitive sense for when something occurred.

For the first of these cases, I am very inconsistent. Sometimes I just memorize 3-digits (e.g.: year 1772 becomes 772). Other times I do 2-digit year + 2-digit century. Occasionally, I glomp the whole 4-digits in one glumph.

For the second of these two cases—the more frequent situation, I think—I don’t care to much about specific dates, but I do want to lock in a strong sense of when things happened along a general timeline of history. Here I am more concerned with getting a sense of what was happening at the same time as my historical subject, what was happening around that time, a bit before and a bit after. So most of my efforts for historical information focus on trying to associate (by a variety of means) the subject in focus to previous near-contemporaneous events and persons.

Anyway, this is a longwinded message, perhaps only interesting to me, but it was helpful for me to notice my different use-cases.

I now think the most important question might be “what are your use-cases and which date information (century, year, month, day-of-month, day-of-week, day-of-year) do you value, per case?”

Anyway, sorry for the long post, but thanks for provoking this insight.


@tarnation, actually, I find this very interesting and appreciate your thinking on the subject. Use cases have been a staple of my teaching for about 20 years and I hadn’t expressed myself in those terms but are always in the background of my mind.

There are just too many use cases and I hate to pick one and then have to find a different system for the ones that don’t fit. That’s probably what has kept me from selecting a system to memorize historical dates so far. I’m looking for one that would be the one that fits all cases the best. In use case design that would be a higher granularity grouping or an epic in Agile user story structuring. But not selecting a system is also what is called analysis paralysis.

So from what I’ve seen so far, you have good solutions for your immediate needs. I’m starting at test cases for now and would like to scale up into hundreds of historical events and still have a simple system to apply for just historical years and the imitation events of competition.

Again, thanks for your input.


PAO to get a 8-digit number, plus some additional coding.

The DDD part is the date. Given we only have 365 possible dates, there is no need to seperate day and month.
The YY mentions the milennium, and if it is before or after christ.
Then the final YYY gives me the exact year


After experimenting with this for years I have found a method that I find works extremely well.

I use a memory palace as a timeline in combination with 3-digit numbers for each year.

Generally I have one street (in the area where I grew up and know very well) for each century. So e.g. the 18th century is my own home street (while the 17th century is the street below that one and the 19th century the street above). If I want to remember that Bach died in 1750 I know that I should place that image approximately half-way up on the street, which is at the curve in the garden of one of my neighbours. I visualize Bach dying in the garden and also add my image for 1750 (to pinpoint the year and also get a clearer and more interesting image), which is an ice cream bowl. So Bach is dying in an ice cream bowl in the garden.

Some nice things about this method:

  1. I don’t need to decide from the start exactly where on the street each year shall be. I can just place the new info approximately at the right place on the “timeline” relative to the length of the street and previously placed years/events.

  2. Using location in combination with number images creates much more stable images than just using number images in a “void”. It happens that I forget the exact number image but almost never the location on the street, which makes it easy to go through the possible number images and quickly find the correct one.

  3. As tarnation wrote, what you really want is a holistic understanding of history and to get a feeling for when in time something happened. This provides you with that in the perhaps clearest way possible, since you can immediately relate it to all other things on the timeline. One of the not so many ways where you can actually argue that using a memory palace helps understanding even more than just learning the “regular” way (if we disregard how much easier it is to memorize with memory techniques of course).

I have used this method for the last three years and memorized thousands of historical and recent events with it. It is still working really well and I have started placing even things where the year is not that important in this palace since it’s usually the easiest way of remembering it anyway. I would say that this is the best “real” use of memory techniques I have ever had.


Majors is consistent and reliable and guaranteed to give you the date you are memorising.


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I think I will adopt your street approach. It makes a lot of sense.


None of these - I use a different city for each year (based on the Major System). Each month is a different type of building or place, e.g. a restaurant for February, a stadium for June…


I am continuing to build a “history of today” event dictionary. Eventually, I will use an object to represent a specific month day, and for year I would use another object from PAO.


I’m loving to see all the varied responses of styles for year memorization from historical to more recent. @katiek, you must have travelled quite a bit to know that many cities or just use it for recent events. @Antelex, I’m curious see your progress on yours.

@Snillsparv, you have the only regular interval palace method (not a journey because it’s based on a rule of streets and relative lengths) that @LynneKelly I know uses. I don’t think I can use that location type style because I don’t feel as close to the geography as I’d like however, the trees around me are starting to develop personalities and journey stories. I think you might have selected the measured distance grid for century but I didn’t know how to describe it well.

Many people like @Mayarra, @anon3561952 and @Bigdonnyv are using numerical systems which I am tending towards but with a little more structure using the different types of data for visualizing sentences with my SEA-IT (subject, enhancements, action, item, terrain) types.

I’m not sure when I should close down the survey or just leave it open forever. It’s been helpful and insightful and maybe others still have variations worth posting. Thanks!


You definitely have the coolest system


How are you using pao to get an 8 digit number? 1000 peope and 1000 objects?


Interesting… hmm this may be more effective than 3 digit for me

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Yep, I like mayarra millennium system a lot.
She gave us a very nice system.

I only changed her object list. And rest is very well made.

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I haven’t necessarily been to all of the cities, but Street View is very useful for exploring and finding locations. I should also explain that these locations are for memorising “what happened in a certain year/month/date etc.”, but when I simply want to “tag” an event with the appropriate year, e.g. “when was the Great Fire of London?” then I’d just use a 3-digit image (Ben System) and tie it to that event.


The poll is closed with 20 voters. Thanks to all who contributed.

  • 35% two two-digit pairs to associated memory images using some form of a PAO system

  • 30% three-digits to memory image, extra image if not greater than 1000-1999 (Johannes Mallow)

  • 20% two two-digit pairs to associated memory images using Major system

  • 10% ignore century, two-digit image for decade and year

  • 5% significant location on journey for century, estimate for decade and year

I’ve decided on the type of system I will be using and recommending. All systems work. But some work better than others and if in the future, I start finding issues, I at least have some great ideas to fall back on for revisions. I’m still tantalized with a continuum approach using a journey. I’ll most likely develop multiple stories for the years within a century when the dates get dense. Here’s the system and an example.

Remembering dates involves the conversion of three major data types, the day, month, and year of the event. The range of the day is 1 to 31, months are 1 to 12, and years are four digits. Geologic time is a separate system.

Many people break up the year into two two-digit chunks. Because the century is the widest scope you should use the widest scope data type of terrain to visualize it to give you the most possible details for creating a visual sentence. Separate terrains should be used for AD and BC and will probably be in the range of 40 to 50 if you like ancient history. That leaves 00 to 99 as the range for the years, which is a comfortable set of number pegs to work with after familiarizing yourself with them for a while. Months can be visualized with substitute words for more meaningful images as long as it doesn’t take over the image. (I use Major system for digit conversions.)

The example splits visualization into two parts of the date and the event details and then merges the two sentences together into a sentence or a very short story.

Date Event Keywords Visual sentence
1517, October 31 hotel, dog, Halloween costume, muddy, Walking into a hotel for dogs, they jump up and get my costume muddy.
Martin Luther posts the 95 theses. Old sheep, apple An old sheep hammers apples to a church door.
1517, October 31 Martin Luther posts the 95 theses. An old sheep in a dog costume walks up to a hotel for dogs to hammer apples to the door but the dogs jump on him, getting his Halloween costume muddy.
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