In our research we come across many old documents relating to our subjects’ finances. Even in census records, financial information is disclosed. The 1850 census reveals the value of real estate a person owned. The 1860 and 1870 census reveal the value of real estate owned as well as the value of personal property. In such record groups as probate, deed and court records, property values are given. And of course, the dollar unit in the past had more value than the dollar unit today. By using an online inflation calculator you can convert a historical dollar value into its present value.
As an example, the 1860 Itawamba County US Federal Census shows Christopher Hussey, an Itawamba County planter in the southwestern part of the county, to be worth $114,445 in both real estate and personal property. Calculating this amount using an online inflation calculator, shows that in today’s dollars, his worth was equivalent to $3,057,115.61, using the consumer price index formula.
There are several online inflation calculators. A most excellent one is MeasuringWorth. With this calculator you can convert the value of historical dollars to present values from 1774 to the present. Presented here are six indicators for making such comparisons in US dollars between any two years from 1774 to 2008. You can perform calculations using different formulas using different methods - the CPI, the GDP Deflator, the consumer bundle, the unskilled wage rate, the GDP per capita, and the GDP. Only two indicators, the CPI and unskilled wage are available from 1774 to 1790, and the consumer bundle is only available from 1900 to the present. This site has a description of the indicators and some really interesting examples using such subjects as George Washington, the Erie Canal, Babe Ruth and the Model T Ford.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has an online inflation calculator that performs calculations from 1913 to 2009. Their CPI inflation calculator uses the average Consumer Price Index for a given calendar year. This data represents changes in prices of all goods and services purchased for consumption by urban households. This index value has been calculated every year since 1913. For the current year, the latest monthly index value is used.
WestEgg has an inflation calculator that performs calculations from 1850 to 2008. The pre-1975 data are the Consumer Price Index statistics from Historical Statistics of the United States (USGPO, 1975). All data since then are from the annual Statistical Abstracts of the United States.
With the use of online calculators such as the ones mentioned here, we can gain a better understanding of the lives and times of our ancestors.