Explanation of the Mutual Assurance Database

The Mutual Assurance Society of Virginia was an insurance company licensed by the State of Virginia to provide fire insurance to buildings only in Virginia. The index is a finders guide to the names of the insured and the kinds of buildings that were insured between the beginning of the company in 1796 and the end of the Civil War in 1865. The policies used to create the database are all preserved at the Library of Virginia and are bound in a series of volumes as they came from the Mutual Assurance Society. In addition microfilm reels of these policies are often available at College, University and Regional libraries around Virginia. Each policy was searched for information about the name of the owner of the insured property, the location of the property, the number given by the Mutual Assurance Society to that policy, the name (where given) and value of the policy, and the kinds of buildings that were insured.

NAME. The information about the owner consists of three fields: LAST NAME, GIVEN NAME, and ADD INSURED (for additional individuals listed on the policy). In most cases this was the name at the top of the policy. However, when a property was part of an estate, the LAST NAME listing may change, from the deceased, to legatee. Only when other information was unavailable was the trustee's name listed in the LAST NAME column. However, trustees were listed in the ADD INSURED column. When searching by name, use the same last name for both the LAST NAME and ADD column to be inclusive.

LOCATION. Three fields give information about location: CITY, COUNTY, and ADDRESS.

CITY is an urban identity on the policy. A property could move from being outside the city limits to inclusion over time. Some cities were quite small, but continued to receive assurance protection.

COUNTY gives the name of the county during the time the policy was in effect. Some counties were in Virginia between 1796 and 1865 but are today part of West Virginia. Some counties, such as Princess Anne have become wholly part of independent cities. The independent cities in Virginia are the result of legislative actions in 1871. Prior to this time cities were nominally part of the counties in which they were physically located. Thus Petersburg policies are listed in Dinwiddie, Prince George and Chesterfield counties. After 1819 the Mutual Assurance Society closed its county books and only insured properties within a mile of an urban area. Some properties which continued to be rural, however, received assurance protection because of their close proximity to a city.

ADDRESS is the location of a property written on the policy, or, at times elaborated from information on the drawing at the bottom of the policy. The varieties of information about address are many, usually streets or block numbers in town, often rivers or streams of rural properties. Some rationalization of this information was attempted for Fredericksburg, listing buildings according to their location relative to the intersections of streets. Lacking any knowledge of many of these towns, I did not attempt it for other communities.

Policy information is given in six fields; DATE, REEL, VOLUME, POLICY, R_D, and Orgnl POLICY.

DATE gives the year of the policy. The procedures of the Mutual Assurance Society required that a policy be revalued every seven years. Typically a city's policies would be reviewed in a cluster, so the year date is more important than the month and day. However, that information is available on the policy, but not in the index.

REEL is the number of the microfilm reel (there are a total of 23 reels) where the policy is found. This is given just for convenience, since the volume number would be sufficient to find the policy, but since most users will not be going to the State Archives, but use the microfilm examples, this seems appropriate.

VOLUME refers to the particular bound volume in which the policy is found. There were 138 volumes of policies given to the State Library from this period. Policies are almost always sequential within the volumes and the volumes were microfilmed sequentially, so this information is essential for referencing a particular policy.A list of the volume date by reel is available

NUMBER is the policy number marked at the top of the policy. Of the 31132 policies in this collection there are no more than ten duplicate policy numbers within numbered volumes. However, the company did not number sequentially from the start--there are some policy numbers that were used in different volumes. Thus there is a policy 2089 in volume 26 and in volume 71. When a duplicate number is used in the same volume we assigned it a ".1" suffix. However, from 1845 through 1866 (Volumes 58, 59 and 60) the Mutual Assurance Society used an "A" to reference these policies.

D_R is a field to indicate whether a policy is new, called a declaration (D), or a revaluation (R). As mentioned above the company demanded that a policy be reviewed every seven years.

Orgnl Policy, or original policy is found whenever a revaluation has taken place. Often revaluations give reference to several earlier policies which helps to trace the pattern of buildings on a particular property. However, some original policy numbers appear to be numbers assigned to properties by the field agent and are not available in the volumes of the Mutual Assurance Society.

Two fields give information about the property. VALUE is the total value of the insured buildings on a particular policy. PROPERTY is the property name mentioned on the policy. Only where a name is specifically been given is there a listing in this column.

DESC is a two-part field. The enumerators for the Mutual Assurance Society created two dimensional sketches at the bottom of most policies. DESC tells you whether the drawing is a footprint (F) or an elevation (E) it also tells you whether there is a drawing (Y) or not (N).

Each policy specified which buildings were to be insured and then gave information about the risk factors of those structures. During this period the risk factors were the use of the structure, the height, the walling material and the roof covering. To summarize this building construction information, we use a form composed of four main parts such as


The first part is a three letter abbreviation for what type of building it is or its use and function. Many buildings have multiple and unexpected combinations of functions. All the abbreviations are listed in the glossary. In this case, DWE stands for a dwelling.

The second part is a one or two digit number which stands for the number of stories in the building. For example, 1 is for one story, 2 is for two story, and so on. For buildings containing a half story, we use 5, thus 15 for one-and-a-half story, 25 for two-and-a-half stories, etc.

The third part is a single letter abbreviation for building material. The following is a list of building material abbreviations currently in use:

W = wood
B = brick
S = stone
C = combo*
U = uprights, no walls

*The combo abbreviation is used for buildings in which multiple construction materials are used, such as one story of wood and one of brick, etc. It is also used for buildings which have brick ends.

The last part is a single letter abbreviation for roof material. The following is a list of roof material abbreviations currently in use:

W = wood (usually shingles)
T = tile
S = slate
X = thatch or straw
D = sand
C = copper
G = gravel
M = metal or tin
I = galvanized iron
P = composition
L = lead
Z = zinc (or zink)
R = brick
A = stone cement
B = combo*

*Once again, the combo abbreviation (B)is used where multiple roofing materials are used. Most often, this occurs in buildings with additions which are constructed and covered of different materials than the original building.

Last Update: 19 April 2011

Name: Gary Stanton, Department of Historic Preservation

Please send corrections or comments to: gstanton@umw.edu