How to Write an Obituary

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, newspaper obituaries were flowery affairs and often contained poems and quotes. The writers would eulogize the deceased in terms that often described angels, even when some knew that that person was far from angelic. Today, price and space limit the obituary to a matter-of-fact short blurb that barely allows the family to let others know about the deceased’s character.

With such limited newspaper space and budget limitations for paid obituaries, it is important to learn how to write an obituary so you provide others with the information they need to help memorialize the dead easily. Obituaries, then, become mini-biographies that form a memorial, but that also contain important information for the general public such as time and date of the funeral or memorial service.

Some newspapers offer guidelines for writing obituaries, but many people don’t read these guides during a time of grief. Most funeral homes can provide a guide in the death care process, including the deadlines for publication for your local newspapers. This short guide can help you write an obituary easily and quickly as well:

  1. The journalist follows the five “w” rule, or the “who, what, when, where, why and how” for any news story. While you may not want to include why or how the deceased died or what happened in the meantime, you can use “who, when and where” to let people know who died, when they died, when the funeral will be held and where it will be held. This is the minimum information required for an obituary for it to be useful to others.
  2. To expand upon the above information, you can include any of this information: where and when the person was born, where they lived throughout their life, notable awards and times in their life, important hobbies, and where that person attended school.
  3. You can include the survivors, including parents, spouses, children and any other special individuals. Some individuals may or may not want to be recognized, so consider this and call the individual to ask. Also, divorces are tricky – do you name previous spouses? This decision might be made based upon current relationships between those families.
  4. You can include the pre-deceased within the family. Often, spouses are remembered by adding the adjective, “late” to the name, such as “Howard was married to the late Sophia Garrett Jones.” Including the spouses maiden name is nice for genealogists, but not absolutely necessary for inclusion.
  5. For those who prefer donations rather than flowers to memorialize the departed, make this information perfectly clear at the very end of the obituary. Include information such as an address or phone number for donations in memory of the deceased.

If you need more details, you can view this excellent guide on how to write obituaries. The writer includes some examples that are easy to follow and a template that makes writing an obituary very easy.

Finally, if you’re still stumped or too overcome with grief to write the obituary, find the family historian now, before you need to write anything. Most family historians (genealogists) have more information on hand than you probably could find within days, and they usually have a grasp on how to write an obituary. Most family historians feel honored when asked to help during a time of need, so let them carry the load for this task during your time of grief if possible.

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