Shepard on Insurance Policy Registers and Post-Civil War Virginia

E. Lee Shepard at the Virginia Historical Society’s Blog on processing the Life Insurance Company of Virginia’s records:

“Processing thirteen volumes that make up records from the formative years of the Life Insurance Company of Virginia was my first task on this project. Exploring these apparently routine books became an extraordinary experience for this veteran archivist. The evidence they disclose about a broad cross-section of Virginians dealing with the aftermath of a huge and devastating conflict is both unexpected and invaluable…..

The majority of the volumes are registers, indicating to whom life insurance policies were sold and for what premium and benefit amounts. The Life Insurance Company of Virginia, founded in Petersburg in 1871 and known familiarly as “Life of Virginia” in the twentieth century, recorded an extraordinary amount of information about its policyholders here besides just names and policy amounts—date and place of birth, race, occupation, age, and beneficiaries, for instance.

I was frankly amazed to see the range of policyholders. I had expected the strong showing of Petersburg and Richmond merchants and professionals; I found, too, a liberal smattering of artisans, laborers, domestics, and householders. Judy Batte of Hicksford, Virginia, a “house servant,” was the first African American to secure a policy, in February 1872, and she was followed by a fairly steady stream of men and women of her race. In fact, as the company grew and its client base became more national in scope, women made up an increasing percentage of policyholders….” (my emphasis)

Read the rest: What Can an Insurance Policy Register Tell Us About Life in Post–Civil War Virginia? | Virginia Historical Society’s Blog

Image Credit: First page of policies in the Register for the Life Insurance Company of Virginia, April 1871-December 1886 (Virginia Historical Society, Mss3 L6263 a 1, detail)

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