What if Our Ancestors had Life Insurance?

Raising a Family

I started a new hobby over the past year digging up ancestry records of relatives long gone: a life insurance agent with a genealogy twist. As motivation, my wife’s family has long rumors about American Indian blood mixed with Kentucky Moonshiner legend. Fascinating. I poked around internet sites like www.ancestry.com and www.GenForum.com and found how easy collecting US Census Data and other public documents can be, such as, land deeds and old wills.

Reading each document connected me to a time and a person from long ago. The moonshiner stories from old press clippings far outweighed any found traces of American Indian. Some real characters in my family! I first thought this exercise would just be a collection of papers but it soon turned into something much more. Reading tales about the turn of the century as 1800 flowed into 1900 lit up a curiosity that sent me back even further towards the 1700’s. Each relative located then ignited the question of who was the father or mother? What state did they come from? What forces moved them from North Carolina to Kentucky when the roads just didn't exist back then?

Comings and goings were interesting…but I really wanted to get some insights into family life 200+ years ago. I was struck by the simplicity of finances as I poured through a collection of land deeds and wills from the 1700s. The cursive handwriting laced with Latin was a bit tough at first to read. I felt for the 3rd and 4th sons who never seemed to get much from dad. As for the daughters, they only benefited if sons were not around. Land was king. If you had some, then you were royalty in your small kingdom. A simple financial plan was to own land. If you could not buy it, then you needed to work the land you were born on in your hopes to inherit it. Census records show if your uncles and aunts didn't own any land, then they might be living in your house.

History favors someone with a deed to transfer to another generation. Family finances flow to sons and daughters. The family lives on. The land deed was the life insurance policy of its day…just a piece of paper with the wealth of one person’s life. Just imagine if life insurance was around in the 1700s or even earlier in the 1600s. All the sons and daughters…not just the first born males…could have some inheritance to continue life in tough times. Life insurance might have helped the next generation buy a small home or fund some education for the children if farming wasn't possible.

When you see how far society has jumped since life insurance became widely distributed in the 1880’s by MetLife, Prudential and the Travelers, I see how families not of the land were able to spread wealth to their next generation. Since the turn of the last century, more homes were purchased. Populations grew. Children were educated. Lives were changed. Our economy grew. The Industrial Revolution surely did fuel this change in society…but workers who received life insurance from their employers or those who chose to buy a personal life insurance policy helped turbo-charge our economy with an easy form of wealth transfer to others…far easier than the land deeds of Colonial America.

Would life insurance have kick started our American economy back in the 1700s? I wonder what the 3rd and 4th sons or their sisters would say?

About the author: Brian Carroll is the CEO of Pivot Insurance and holds CLU & CPCU designations. He has been part of the life insurance industry for over 30 years. He is also an avid runner and has participated in many athletic endurance events. Brian established the anonymous life insurance quote process here at Pivot and takes pride in the caring and professional staff. You can reach Brian at 1-800-651-1953 or BCarroll@pivot.com.