Insurance Companies & Your Ancestors

insu-penNow that may be an area of research you have not checked yet in reference to your ancestors. You may have just passed over any insurance papers when sorting through documents held by a relative. Plus they might have held policies that actually belonged to a distant ancestor.

I found such a document, an fire insurance policy for a distant cousin’s house in Hanover, Pennsylvania in the 1860s. The document had just been passed down through the years with other family papers.  

It was John George Wagoner who had a fire Insurance policy written up in August 13, 1863 which was good for seven years. The insurance was provided by Farmer’s Company of Paradise, York, Pa., Mutual Fire Insurance Company. The premium was $128 and the total insured coverage was for $1600. The items insured were: a house made of logs valued at $800, a wash house valued at $100, pig pen with chicken house valued at $100, a barn valued at $500 and a carriage house with shed valued at $100.

insur-Republic_Fire_Insurance_Company-1860That information gave great insight to Wagoner’s worth of property in 1863. He may have gotten the insurance policy then, right in the middle of the American Civil War, when there was a real threat of his property been burned. That premium about of $128 would be worth about $2,415 in money value of 2014. That made his house valued in today’s money at $15,100.

So do check around and see if there are any old insurance policies.

Another interesting insurance company had the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. These wonderful detailed maps of buildings, homes and structures are very important to seeing where an ancestral home or business was located. Go online to the Library of Congress site for viewing these Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. You search by location — the state name, the the city / town and / or county name. Not every map is digitized to date but there is at least a listing of what dates for a specific location. insu-HollidaysburgThis way you know such a map exist to find in other databases. The maps date back to 1866. Those states that are online include: AK, AL, AZ, CA, CT, DC, GA, IL, IN, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MO, MS, NC, NE, NH, NJ, NV, OH, PA, TX, VA, VT and WY. Outside the United States there are maps for Canada, Mexico, Cuba sugar warehouses, and U.S. whiskey warehouses. When you look at the list of cities / counties, those with a * do have digital maps.

If there is a listing of a specific time frame and location but it is not been made digital by the Library of Congress, either do a Google search for that location with the title Sanborn Fire Insurance map, because some other libraries do carry certain areas. Or you can contact the Sanborn Insurance Company directly and for a fee they can reproduce a specific map (s) for you. insu - cumberland, MD

Insurance companies and their policies — an area worth investigating for your family history research.

Photos: A different Fire Insurance Certificate for 1860, Hollidaysburg, PA map of 1886 and Cumberland, MD in 1904.

Related genealogical blogs:

Sanborn Fire Protection Maps

Scanned Documents

Finding Heirlooms


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