History Ph.D. Dissertations


Revelations from the Dead: Using Funeral Home Records to Help Reconstruct the History of Black Toledo

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Lillian Ashcraft-Eason

Second Advisor

Kefa Otiso (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Apollos Nwauwa (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Gary Hess (Committee Member)


The purpose of this study is to examine September 1912 through June 1917 records from the Wanzo Funeral Home toward reconstructing aspects of the history of black Toledo, Ohio during its formative years. That time period marks the early years of the Great Migration and the beginning years of World War I, coinciding with the burgeoning of Toledo's black community. The funeral records are currently housed at the Dale-Riggs Funeral Home, which in earlier years was owned by Elvin B. Wanzo and was the first publically listed black funeral home in Toledo.

This study benefits from the use of both quantitative and qualitative research methods. One of the methodological components of this study is a quantitative approach that allows me to statistically analyze five years in the Wanzo funeral records. Categorization and analysis of the information in the ledgers will help to provide a narrative that offers insights into community dynamics and ultimately creates a profile of the late formative years of black Toledo. This study complements and augments data used in prior studies on black Toledo. The records provide a glimpse into this Mid-western industrial city's black intra-community social relations, social and economic issues and development, patterns of migration, shifting residential boundaries and burial traditions and related to the disposing of remains of the deceased. Additionally, this study permits explorations in turn-of-the-twentieth century conditions associated with sickness and dying in Toledo. The ledger entries present an abstraction of each individual and propel the researcher toward a larger composite profile of various aspects of the black Toledo community in that period. This methodological framework can be extended to doing histories of other local communities throughout the United States.