Saturday, August 09, 2008

We've Moved! Come visit us at

But if you'd like, you're welcome to stay here and rummage around to see some of the best posts from the past as they originally appeared.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Missouri Insurance Company

In the first half of the twentieth century, it was a common practice of many immigrant families and African-American families to purchase life insurance policies on their infant children. Indeed, as late as the 1990's, an otherwise respected baby food company was sponsoring such insurance policies.

Why would someone purchase a life insurance policy on an infant? Isn't the textbook purpose of life insurance to provide for the survivors' needs in the event of the insured's premature death? Well, that's one of the purposes. The families who bought these policies [and my family was one] were told that the policies were a way to "build wealth" or to provide a "nest egg" for the young person's adulthood. Sometimes the less-educated or illiterate were simply told that it was a way to "protect" their child.

The policies that were sold in this manner were a species of "whole life" insurance (now sometimes called "permanent insurance"), which simply put, require premiums to be paid for the insured's whole life or for some other specified period until the policy's "cash value" is fully paid up. The insurance component remains in effect as long as the premiums are paid (i.e. for one's whole life--in practice usually to age 95, although I understand now in some cases, it can last to age 121!). The cash value is accumulated from a portion of the premium paid. The policy can be surrendered at certain points for the then-accumulated cash value. (This is a simplified description of what today is a somewhat more sophisticated product).

In the case of these policies on infants, the premiums were payable at least until age 18 or 21 to receive the maximum death benefit; and could be paid longer for a greater cash accumulation.

Whole life and its more recent companion product, universal life insurance, can be good investment vehicles in a well-planned and well-managed portfolio. But the folks buying these products in the first half of the twentieth century rarely had access to financial or estate planning information. And truth be told, they would have been better off in most cases putting their money in the bank.

Today, these policies don't turn up often because of the greater access to other investment and saving vehicles. More people can buy stocks and bonds today than ever could be before. These instruments are no longer just for the wealthy.

One company that sold the infant policies was the Missouri Life Insurance Company, formed in the 1830's as the first insurance company in St Louis (see Missouri History Recalled During Past Week, The Sikeston Herald, March 13, 1936, p.3, available from Newspaper In 1907, the company was issued a corporate charter by the Missouri Legislature. The company existed as a major business force in St Louis and Missouri for more than eighty years.

In 1956, the company changed its name to Life Insurance Company of Missouri (Business Notes, The Sunday News & Tribune [Jefferson City, Mo.], April 15, 1956, p. 9). But in 1957, it was taken over by Cincinnati-based Western & Southern Life Insurance Company, which remains in business today.

These infant policies will eventually become known as a bit of socioeconomic and anthropological ephemera.

Below is a copy of a policy sold by the Missouri Insurance Company in 1953. In addition to the death benefit, there are "Accidental Death Benefits" and "Dismemberment Benefits." The premium on this policy was $0.76 weekly for maximum death benefit of $1000 if premiums were paid for 18 years.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Living in Two Places

GeneaBlogie is between homes right now. No, we're not homeless; some of you have noticed that we have two homes! We are at both: AND

We will be moving permanently to the latter site. This has been in the works for quite awhile; we had several hiccups along the way. But with the recent spam-flagging of several legitimate blogs on Google's Blogger system, I really accelerated the process. I'm not in need of a nanny; I can be master of my own domains, so to speak.

If you visit us in our new home, you'll see it's not totally ready, but our guests will be comfortable. In a few days, our old place will be boarded up. So update your address books now to:

Friday, August 01, 2008

Carnival Carousel: Harvesting & Sharing the Bounty

Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, I've been blessed with a bounteous trove of genealogical riches, nearly more than one person can handle. We've been slowly and carefully going through boxes of documents and photographs (and at the rate we're going, we're likely to spend the next 15 years at this!

For this Carnival, I thought I would give you a glimpse of some of the stuff. You'll see the challenges and the joys ahead. You can enlarge any image by clicking on it.

First, there is this curious picture below, which I call "Children in Wagon." I think that there are actually two, maybe even three adults in the picture. I have no idea when or where the photo was taken. I do suspect that it was taken in either Illinois or Missouri. On the back of the original is the handwritten notation "For Francis." That could refer to a number of family members, none of whom seem to be in the picture. Or it may refer to someone other than a family member. The problem is that the people most likely to know have all passed away.

"Children (?) In Wagon" (Photographer unknown; original in possession of Craig Manson, Carmichael, California)

The photograph on the right I labelled "Young Woman." Again, we have no idea of the woman's identity or when the photo was taken. We do have several clues, however. On part of the original which I have covered with the frame here, there is the embossed name and address "Maxwell, 2607 Lawton Ave, St Louis, Mo". This apparently refers to photographer William C. Maxwell, who had a studio in St Louis from at least 1910 until at least 1915. See Early St. Louis Photographers. I haven't found any evidence that the business still exists.

The other potential clues about "Young Woman" are that this was actually a post card. I've come across several post cards with identifiable family members in them, leading me to believe that this was a popular way in which to send pictures in the early part of the twentieth century. Below is the "Young Woman" post card. You can see what kind of shape the photograph is in by looking at the post card back.

There is an address on the post card. To me, it appears to be:

"Miss B. Mc. Quin
2828 Morgan
St Louis

And I'm not sure that it isn't "McQuin." There were families named Quin and McQuin in St Louis in the period that Maxwell could have made the portrait. But beyond that, nothing else is known to me about the photo.

The next photograph I call "Surly Woman, Distracted Man." I have no idea who these people are or when or where the photograph was made. I presume that their clothes are a clue. Notice how the man has his right hand tucked inside his coat. And what does the sign behind the man's head say? Another challenge for you photo-sleuths!

Finally, I've come to realize that a lot of the material may be valuable to researchers looking at other families. So from time to time, I'll share some things that may be of broad interest. Today, somewhat apropos of a Carnival, here's a list of couples who were feted on their 50th (or greater!) wedding anniversary in the Archdiocese of St Louis in 2001. See if one of your surnames is there! [Click on pages to enlarge].

Monday, July 28, 2008

Dealing With Thousands of Photographs, etc.--Step 1

We decided as a first step to "sample" one of the boxes. There we found hundreds of photos, a number of documents, vital records (including some for living family members!), and a lot of ephemera. Here's a partial inventory of stuff in that first box:

  1. Photographs, amounting to several hundred.
  2. Two family tree (descendancy) charts, filled out to the sixth generation (how cool is that?!).
  3. Several funeral programs.
  4. School records.
  5. About a hundred newspaper articles dating from the 1930's to the 1970's.
  6. Three Greyhound bus tickets from 1954.
  7. Military records for several individuals.
  8. Three life insurance policies taken out on infants in the 1940's and 1950's.
  9. Two family address directories produced for family reunions in the 1970's.
  10. Several high school diplomas from the 1930's.
As I said, that's only some of the stuff. Photos clearly are the dominant matter there. But here's the deal with the photos in this box: they include portraits from the late 1800's through about the 1940's; Kodak snapshots from the 1940's through the 1970's; and Polaroids from the 1970's and '80's. The portrait type pictures are great--like some we've posted here before. Most, however, are in need of serious rehabilitation. The Kodak snapshots have held up surprisingly well. They are all black & white, and generally show a sense of composition on the part of the photographers. The Polaroids are in better physical shape than one might expect, but frankly, they are just not as nice in most respects as the others. Many of them are contained in small plastic albums from which they are difficult to remove. Some of the pockets contain as many as five pictures. They may not be keepers.

A major problem with the photographs is identification of subject, date, and place. As for the older unidentified pictures, there are few living people who can credibly identify the individuals in them. Isn't amazing how we fail to label our photos?!

One of the things that struck me was a photocopy (and a bad one, too) of two portraits probably taken in the early 1900's. Somebody, I hope, has the originals, but who?

I think the next thing to do is go through all the boxes and segregate the photos, the documents, and the ephemera into separate temporary storage. This will take some discipline to do efficiently, because of the "Hey-look-at-this!" factor.

I've also begun a list of family members likely able to identify the photographs. We did identify a few today, though that was not our main purpose. By the way, I think it useful when labelling these to include a line that says: "ID'd by (name), (relationship), on (date)."

Sunday, July 27, 2008

From Catholic Records to Illinois Slave Records

Le vingt deux fevrier mil huit cent treize a ete baptiste George ne de Julie esclave de fem Mv LaChange ont ete parrein Ignace et marrein Marguerite tous deux esclaves de Mde Ve D'Amour

So it says in the records of the Catholic Diocese of Belleville, Illinois, referring to one George Micheau. What does this mean? Keeping in mind that 19th century French is different from 21st century French, I used my self-taught genealogical French as well as my law and altar-boy Latin. Here's my original translation:
On the twenty-second of February, 1813, was baptized George, born of Julie, slave of Mr. LaChance; his Godparents were Ignatius and Margaret, both slaves of Mrs D'Amour.
But a couple of folks, including a reader in France, pointed out that I had missed or misunderstood somethings that turn out to be genealogically significant. For example, Julie's master is described as deceased (see the comments to the first post on this topic). And our Paris correspondent says:

Mde Ve = Mademoiselle veuve, in the Ancient Regime, Mademoiselle was used for the ladies, married or not. Today it is used only for unmarried woman, young or old.
"Veuve" means "widow" in French. So Ignatius and Margaret were owned by

Assuming that the translation is good (and thanks to my helpers, I'm confident that it is), we now perhaps have learned more about George Micheau (the elder) as we seek the origins of the Micheau/Mischeaux family in French Illinois. That we may be dealing with slaves could be a daunting realization for some; enough to throw in the towel for others. How are we going to begin to research slave genealogy?

Fortunately, Illinois has a Database of Servitude and Emancipation Records which covers the period 1722-1863. (Why 1722? That was approximately the year that Pierre Renault, agent for the King of France, arrived in Illinois with slaves purchased in the Caribbean to search for silver and gold). The Servitude and Emancipation Database includes approximately 3,400 names found in governmental records involving the servitude and emancipation of Africans and, occasionally, Indians. The Illinois State Archives extracted the names of servants, slaves, or free persons and masters, witnesses, or related parties from selected governmental records to produce this database. The online version is searchable by names, by counties, or types of documents.

We have several names to work with here: George, Julie, Ignatius, Margaret, LaChance, D'Amour. and we know that the relevant events occurred in Randolph County, Illinois. A search of the database with those variables yields abstracts of a number of interesting documents.

First, there is an estate document dated 27 January 1739 which says in part:


The abstract identifies "Catherine" as Catherine Vinsennes, a fact that we'll keep in mind for later use. We have perhaps identified "Ignace" (Latin/French form of Ignatius), the godfather (if not in fact the grandfather) of George.

Another document is a bill of sale from Louis Marein to Pierre Mulin for a slave named "Margueritte." It's dated 12 June 1740. The abstract notes that:


Perhaps we have identified "Margaret," the godmother (if not in fact the grandmother). Note the double-T spelling of "Margueritte." The name "Margarett" with two "t's" occurs quite frequently in the Micheau/Mischeaux family, down to a currently living descendant, who's frequently asked about the spelling. She says that she's always heard it's a longstanding family name.

There are six documents that relate to slaves named "George" in Randolph County. But only one matches the relevant dates for our George. It's an indenture dated 12 August 1813 for a boy named George, described as one year old in one part of the document, but says "Born in Randolph County in April" in another place. His race is stated as "mulatto" which comports with later descriptions of George Micheau and his progeny. This document then may well refer to our George.

What about the discrepancies with respect to age? We know that George Micheau was born earlier than April 1813. It may well be that he was born in February 1813 and that the master did not know that; he being only aware that the child was several months old. There are some other issues raised by this abstract. For one thing, an indenture is usually a two-party agreement. Who was the party representing the interests of George. We no doubt will have to see the document. It's available for $10 from the Illinois State Archives.

Now we need to check the Servitude and Emancipation database for information on the bondholders.

What about the late M. LaChance? The database has a bill of sale dated 2 Jun 1774 from a Marie Franciose Ayet to one Nicolas LaChance. The memo on the abstract notes:


A second document in the database abstracts the 1820 census of Illinois--the first census in which Illinois appears as a State of the USA. On that census, there is a "Madame LaChance" in Prairie du Rocher, Randolph County, Illinois. The fact that a woman was enumerated as head of household in 1820 suggests that she was a widow.

We have to go to the 1820 census itself to understand the abstract. The household appears to consist of two white males under the age of ten; and two white males between 10 and 15 years old; a white female between 10 and 15 years old; and Madame LaChance herself, apparently between 26 and 44 years old. Then there appear to be two male slaves under age 14; one male slave between14 and 25 years old; two female slaves under age 14; and one female slave between 14 and 26 years old. There is one male "free colored person" between 26 and 44 years old.

All of this data on the LaChance documents needs analysis; we'll get to that later. For now, let's see what we can find about the widow D'Amour.

Just as in the LaChance case, the Servitude and Emancipation Database has for a Madam "Damore" an abstract from the 1820 census. She was enumerated in Prairie du Rocher, Randolph County, with two female slaves: one under 14 years old, and the other over age 45. Madam Damore herself was listed as being over 45 years old.

The D'Amour evidence also requires analysis before we draw any conclusions.

Remember, we're in search of the origins of the Micheau/Mischeaux family in French Illinois. So stay with us as we next analyze the evidence.

How Do I Deal With Thousands of Photos?

My inclination is to dive right in like a kid at Christmas! But this isn't practical for several reasons:

  1. I'm not sure how or where these were previously stored, and thus I don't know the age or condition of most of them.
  2. I probably cannot identify many of then without family help.
  3. I still must eat and sleep.

Given those issues, I have to figure out some temporary storage and cataloging system.

More Pictures . . .

of boxes of pictures (and documents)!