Episode 114 Resources: In Case Stuff: Insurance Records for Genealogy Research

There literally has been insurance for just about anything and that means there’s also a lengthy paper trail! Learn how you can utilize insurance records to trace the enslavement of ancestors, track occupations for ancestors, and get a bird’s eye view into the everyday lives of the family members you’re researching. 

Previous Episodes:


What exactly is insurance? Why should we care about it when it comes to genealogy and family history?

“The first American insurance company was organized by Benjamin Franklin in 1752 as the Philadelphia Contributionship.”

  • The world industry began between 4000-3000 B.C. and started largely with what are called bottomry contracts. “Under a bottomry contract, loans were granted to merchants with the provision that if the shipment was lost at sea the loan did not have to be repaid. The interest on the loan covered the insurance risk. Ancient Roman law recognized the bottomry contract in which an article of agreement was drawn up and funds were deposited with a money changer. Marine insurance became highly developed in the 15th century.”
  • “In Rome there were also burial societies that paid funeral costs of their members out of monthly dues.” Aetna notes that burial insurance began in 100AD in Rome.
  • Ensured Enslaved People – Insured usually due to occupation they worked or perceived market value
  • See attached example from Penn Mutual (Source: California Department of Insurance)
  • Coverage began at age 8 and went to age 34 (prime years of highest market value for the enslaved)
  • Notice the “extra premiums” associated with work in: “coal pits, steamboats, fishing boats, rafting, mining, canal or pilot boats, coasting, engineers or firemen.”
  • Additional rates are seen and based on different terms of coverage. See attached example from Penn Mutual (Source: California Department of Insurance)
  • Burial and Mutual Aid societies 
  • Ex-Slave Pension Movement, 1892-1916 – 
  • https://www.zinnedproject.org/news/tdih/first-national-convention-ex-slave-mutual-relief-bounty-and-pension-association/
  • https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2010/summer/slave-pension.html

How do we get to insurance records?

  • State level insurance registries (insurance on enslaved people)
  • States put information out but don’t appear to have maintained the information since it was put out circa 2000s.
  • Personal papers collections
  • College/university repositories
  • Newspapers/periodicals
  • Probates/successions

Episode Resources:

Publications and Links

Databases and Lists

A version of the sortable spreadsheet above that combines both the California and the Illinois list will be made available at a later date

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