One of the interesting aspects of searching one's family history are learning those small details, those things that made relatives from a hundred years ago more real to life. Nothing speaks to the reality of living than money. It has been a very necessary element in our ancestors' lives just as it is today.
So as you gather information on your ancestors you see figures in the U. S. Federal Censuses for 'Value of Real Estate' and 'Value of Personal Estate' in 1850, 1860 and 1870; the Tax Assessments of the 1860s; US Federal Census of 1930 with the monthly rent paid or the value of a home owned by an ancestor. You may also have receipts of purchases, property deeds, bill of sales, property taxes or wage receipts, all covering various periods of time.
There is no way to truly comprehend the value without converting the money value from the ancestor's date to the present time. Using the 'Measuring Worth' online site there are calculators which assist in the relative value of money in different countries and time frames.
Using the listing for the United States there is no one single formula to make the comparison. Factors such as the Consumer Price Index, annual Gross Domestic Product and per capita figures are all calculated.
The calculator on the site has you place the initial year (the time event of the ancestor), then the amount in question and finally the desired year (usually the present time like 2010 or 2011). For example, a common figure of monthly rent for a house based on the US 1930 Census was $35. It will figure what that $35 dollars today is worth by using the Consumer Price Index, which is a figure of $450. Compare the real estate value of property for 1870, a figure then of $1,500. That Consumer Price Index figure compares it today to $25,400. Look at the time of penny candy from the local store. That one cent in 1900 would be worth, using the Consumer Price Index, about 26 cents.
Another easy converter of historical currency has you place the amount of money and the year for the ancestor and then it calculates. It is figured on the buying power of the currency rate. For example, $50 in 1845 is equal to $1,446.38 today. That same $50 by 1900 now has a buying value of $1,298.79.
Using the money calculator is a wonderful way to add to the knowledge of the family history and place a real perception on the value of items years ago.