Tag Archives: forest cemetery

Death Records for Genealogy Research – What you might not be looking at! (Part 1)

Over the course of 2016 I’ve gained a lot of distant family members to my family tree. Some I have been blessed to have reached out to me via various social media sites, others have sent me emails and I’ve even called some distant relatives who I never knew I had until really expanding my family tree.

Many of these individuals and various unnamed connections were made via the use of death records which can include death registers, death certificates (there is a difference!), obituaries, and funeral home records.

A very important tip in regards to perusing death records, especially registers and death certificates is to always look at the original document. We are very fortunate to be genealogical researchers in the digital age whereas we can type in a query into a search engine and our ancestors information pops up, but only looking at the transcribed information shown to you at Ancestry.com or FamilySearch.org or any other genealogical website you may use, means you are overlooking important clues that can add additional value and branches to your family tree.

Death registers – basically a list of everyone who died, their age, cause of death and sometimes their address and where they were buried, were kept by the City of Toledo and Lucas County starting in the 1840s. There are few records between 1840 and 1860 but from the 1860s forward there are quite a lot of entries. I am currently working on transcribing the death records of all black/colored individuals who died in the City of Toledo from 1860 through 1880 and I may go a bit further if time warrants. Below is a sample of one of my ancestors whose information I discovered via the Death Register of the City of Toledo. It is the death record of Elias Whitfield, one of my first documented early Toledo ancestors. Elias died in 1897 at the age of 35 and was the husband of Martha/Mattie JONES and the father of Harold Elias WHITFIELD. If I had only looked at the transcribed version of the death register record, only the following information shows up:

Name                                           Elias Whitford
Event Type                                Death
Event Date                                 25 Nov 1897
Event Place                               Toledo, Lucas, Ohio, United States
Gender                                         Male
Age                                                 35
Marital Status                           Married
Race                                             C
Race (Original)                         C
Occupation                               Drayman
Birth Year (Estimated)          1862
Birthplace                                  U.S.
Cemetery                                   Forest
Father’s Birthplace                 US
Mother’s Birthplace               US

Please the first line of the attached picture below and note that WHITFORD is a variant spelling of WHITFIELD. Many times surnames and even given names were mis-spelled or incorrectly written by record keepers. Everything else I knew about Elias WHITFIELD matches with this death certificate since I had other sources about his life. He was born approximately 1862-1863. He was black/”colored” as mentioned in the record. He was married and he died in Toledo in the 1890s. This transcription provides a lot of information that is useful for a family tree.
Here is the original version of the death record:

As you can see, the original version gives a bit more information. It also states that he was 35 when he died. It shows the address where he died, which was 1611 Canton Avenue in Toledo. I could assume this was his home address. The Canton Avenue district in Toledo near Cherry Street and Bancroft was the location of the largest percentage of the black population in the city at the time. Elias’ cause of death was Phthisis Pulmonalis Congestion of the Lungs, basically Tuberculosis, something that was a huge public heath epidemic from the late 1800s through the 1950s with the invention of antibiotics to combat this illness. He had been sick for 18 months before his death. He had lived in the city for 20 years, so had moved to Toledo in the 1870s. The physician who attended him was named J.A. Wright .

Starting in the 1900s the federal government required all states to issue Certificates of Death for everyone who died in the country. Many states didn’t begin to implement this directive until they were required to do so around 1915. This is the case especially for many southern states who unfortunately didn’t routinely record the deaths of black people. Their lack of doing so can be a road block in black genealogy. In Ohio and Toledo specifically, we are lucky that Toledo kept death records on all citizens who gave a record of death. My earliest ancestor who had an official Death Certificate was Amy BLICK/BLECK JONES the mother-in-law of Elias WHITFIELD. Amy BLICK/BLECK JONES died in 1903. Below is the transcription of her Death Certificate:

Amy Jones
Ohio, County Death Records
Name                                        Amy Jones
Event Type                             Death
Event Date                             01 Sep 1903
Event Place                           Toledo, Lucas, Ohio, United States
Residence Place                 Toledo, Lucas, Ohio
Gender                                   Female
Age                                          abt 60y
Marital Status                    Married
Race                                      black
Race (Original)                 black
Occupation                       house work
Birth Date                                1843
Birthplace                                U. S.
Burial Place                           Toledo, Lucas, Ohio
Cemetery                               Forest
Father’s Birthplace           U.S.
Mother’s Birthplace          U.S.

On the original document below Amy’s cause of death was listed as “endocartitis” and “rheumatism.” It shows her approximate year of birth. Since I am fairly confident that Amy BLICK/BLECK JONES was a slave, it can be assumed that her exact birthdate was unknown, which is why “about 1843” was written on the certificate for her birthday and “about 60” was written as her age. It lists the funeral home that took care of her burial “Wilson and Feese.” The certificate also shows her address of 218 Avondale Avenue, which corresponds to the accumulation of the black population, starting in the late 1800s to about 1930 being centered in what is known as the “Port Lawrence” district of the city near St. Patrick’s Catholic Church and where the current Port Lawrence housing community is situated. Amy also was stated to have lived in the city “about 20 years.” A perusal of City Directories shows her husband and herself as residents of Toledo in in the 1880s.
This early death certificate differs in look from the ones used starting in the 1910s. They are pretty similar from all across the country in regards to the ones I have reviewed from 1915 forward. Below is the Death Certificate of Edna ROBINSON PARROTT. She was a 4th great aunt of mine. Information found within this Death Certificate pointed me toward the genealogy of her mother Nancy JONES. As stated earlier in the JONES/ROBINSON post, I was unaware of Nancy’s maiden name for a number of years due to believing it was BAKER. Details in the original image of the death record allowed me to put some pieces of the JONES/ROBINSON puzzle together.

Name                                             Edna Parrott
Event Type                                  Death
Event Date                                  19 May 1929
Event Place                                Toledo, Lucas, Ohio, United States
Address                                        138 Hamilton St.
Residence Place                      Toledo, Lucas, Ohio
Gender                                         Female
Age                                                48y 6m 14d
Marital Status                          Married
Race                                             Colored
Race (Original)                         Colored
Occupation                               housewife
Birth Date                                  05 Nov 1880
Birthplace                                Toledo, Ohio
Burial Date                              22 May 1929
Cemetery                                Forest
Father’s Name                      Ed. Robinson

Father’s Birthplace             Harrisburg, Pa.
Mother’s Name                    Nancie Jones

Mother’s Birthplace           Greenfield, Ohio
Spouse’s Name                    Bert Parrott

As shown above, this death record provides some great information in the transcribed form. It does show birth her parents, even her mother’s maiden name and the places of birth for both. However a review of the original certificate showed that the “Informant” for the Death Certificate was “Nancy BAKER” meaning Edna’s own mother provided the information so it can be seen as much more factual than other certificates, like Amy BLICK/BLECK JONES’ above, which have a physician or hospital worker as the informant for the data within the document. The document also says that Edna was buried by the WANZO Funeral Home, a black owned funeral home that was later sold and is still in existence today as the Dale-Riggs Funeral Home on Nebraska Ave.

Earlier this year I read a 2011 thesis paper/book written by a PhD student from Bowling Green State University. The research paper was titled “Revelations fron the Dead: Using Funeral Home Records to Help Reconstruct the History of Black Toledo” by Camillia Z. Rodgers. Prior to reading this thesis, I had never considered using funeral home records before for genealogical research and especially never knew that I would be able to get access to long ago funeral home records. In the paper, Dr. Rodgers wrote about the Wanzo Funeral Home. Elvin B. WANZO was a prominent black citizen in Toledo and moved to the area in the early 1900s. A review of my relatives’ death certificates from the early 1900s when Wanzo opened his funeral home through the 1950s when he sold the business showed that Mr. Wanzo buried 3-4 generations of my direct ancestors and distant family members during the time his business was in operation, including Edna ROBINSON PARROTT above.

The records and registers that Mr. Wanzo kept regarding his services, primarily for the African American community in Toledo are currently housed in at BGSU’s library in its special collections department. I have yet to make a visit to BG to view the records but wanted to let readers know that these records may provide additional information on your ancestors and it may be worth a drive to BG if you are in the Toledo area.

The next post on this subject will be about Obituaries, which I feel warrant a separate entry.

SOURCES USED:

Ohio County Death Records 1840-2001 via familysearch.org

Ohio Deaths 1908-1953 via familysearch.org

OhioLINK ETD (see link above for thesis)