It was quite a sum of money for a widow of advanced age in rural Bedford County, Virginia, in 1841:
There are online calculators that would tell me the “present value” of $500 today–in 2019. There have been a large numbers of economic upturns, downturns, crises, etc. But I really have little interest in what $500 is worth today.
Mary Welch didn’t get it in 2019. She got it in 1841. I want to know what it could have done for Mary in 1841.
There are some ways that I can do that. I can look at estate inventory values in 1841. My review of these values can look at the total value of the estate, the specific value of certain items, and the relative scarcity of items. I can look at real property values from 1841–using property tax records and land deeds.
Typing a number into a box and getting a calculated value is fast and easy. There’s not much work in that.
What would tell me more would be? How big of a farm in 1841 could Mary purchase in Bedford County, Virginia, for $500? How many estates probated in Bedford County in 1841 were worth at least $500? How many pounds of tobacco would $500 have purchased? There’s a number of other items whose value I could compare to $500.
That’s just one number which doesn’t tell me much. And I bet that there is a significant difference between the amount of real estate $500 would buy in Bedford County, Virginia, in 1841 and how much $15,000 would buy in Bedford County, Virginia, today.
And genealogy is about perspective.