Have you ever examined your ancestors’ census records and noticed the dollar amounts in columns relating to the value of real estate and value of personal property? Have you wondered what those values would be in today’s dollars?
Get some perspective on the financial standing of your ancestor by using The Inflation Calculator. This site adjusts any given amount of money for inflation, from 1800 almost to the present day.
For example, using the 1870 census for Martin Low in Gentry County, Missouri (image below), we find the value of his real estate has been placed at $500. According to The Inflation Calculator, that’s $12,940 in 2010 dollars.
Notice the value of Evan Lewis’ property, listed above Martin, is $160. That’s about $4,140 in 2010 dollars. Another property owner on the next page has his land valued at $1,000 ($25,880 in 2010). Those are the top and bottom values in the entries near Martin.
Don’t stop there. Document your findings by noting the results in your genealogy program or attaching some commentary to your census document.
Of course, this project raises other questions:
• How much land did Martin own?
• What was the cost of living for a farmer, like Martin, in this time period and locality?
• How is the land in that area used today? Is it still farmland?
• What did Martin pay for his property?
• What was it eventually sold for and to whom?
By doing exercises like this, we begin to better understand our ancestor’s wealth, relative socioeconomic status in their community, and lifestyle. I hope you take the time to look at these kinds of issues when researching your ancestors.
© Michelle Goodrum 2012