Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Corruccini, Robert

Second Advisor

Barrios, Roberto


Recent reports reveal that a centuries-long trend in mortality has reversed, with post-1980 rural populations now being vulnerable to higher death rates than urban areas (Cossman et al. 2010). Scholars have also documented a post-1980 “return migration” of urban African Americans returning to rural regions (Stack 1996, Falk et al. 2004). The purpose of this research was: 1) to determine if the high urban mortality from 1900 to 1979 is related to the mass migration of rural African Americans to northern cities; 2) to discern if the high rural mortality post-1980 is related to the return migration of African Americans to southern rural regions; and 3) to test whether or not holistic and interdisciplinary research which incorporates the Racial Context of Origins will reveal discrepancies when compared to life table analyses. While the post-1980 “return migration” of urban African Americans to rural regions is of interest to scholars, the lack of death data needed to study them is often non-existent, often resulting in the exclusion of these marginalized populations from research (Sattenspiel and Stoops 2010:7). In order to test the above hypotheses, a replicable methodology that incorporates Read and Emerson’s (2005) call for the incorporation of a new theoretical concept in data collection and analysis, the Racial Context of Origins, was formulated in order to extract mortality data from these and other minority populations when archival data seemingly does not exist. Relying upon a fusion of biological and cultural anthropology and genealogical methods, this study’s main objectives were: 1) to collect vital statistics from and reconstruct three cemeteries that represent rural, semi-rural, and urban African American populations from 1880-2010 in order to document the mortality profiles through the use of life table analyses; 2) to compile narrative genealogies and migration histories through various archival records, integrating the Racial Context of Origins, by focusing on a semi-rural cemetery which represents a spectrum of both rural and urban lifestyles; and 3) to compare and contrast the statistical mortality profiles with the narrative genealogies and histories. The rural and semi-rural cemetery’s reconstructed burial registers resulted in 122 narrative genealogies that collectively revealed a migratory pattern where the rural and semi-rural populations in Missouri moved to urban cities prior to 1980, later returning to rural areas post-1980, findings confirmed by the life tables. Although only a single ethnic group was studied, the results indicated that post-1980 high rural mortality was at least in part affected by African American migration. Incorporating a methodology that included the Racial Context of Origins to reconstruct records from which to extract data provided more, and better, data with which to work. The methodology used to reconstruct archival records increased the sample size by 85%. As a result, there were no discrepancies in the life tables because those data were extracted from the reconstructed records.

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