Obituaries: Comprehensive Guide

Obituaries play an essential role in our society, providing a lasting record of an individual’s life and contributions. Whether you’re looking to publish an obituary or trying to search for one, this guide will provide you with comprehensive details on every aspect you need to know.

In this article:

How to Publish Obituaries

i. Traditional Obituary Outlets:

a. Newspapers: One of the most traditional and trusted methods for publishing obituaries is through local or national newspapers. These often have a dedicated section for obituaries, ensuring that local communities are informed.

b. Funeral Homes: Most funeral homes offer obituary writing and publication services. They often have partnerships with local newspapers and can facilitate the process, sometimes even publishing it on their website.

ii. Digital Platforms:

a. Dedicated Obituary Websites: Sites like,, or allow individuals to publish obituaries, often with the option to include photos, videos, and guestbook features.

b. Social Media: Platforms such as Facebook and Instagram allow families to share the news of a loved one’s passing. These posts can be shared widely, ensuring that extended networks are informed.

iii. How to Post an Obituary for Free:

While many platforms charge for obituary postings, there are ways to post without incurring costs:

a. Community Boards: Local community centers or religious institutions often have bulletin boards where obituaries or memorials can be pinned for free.

b. Free Obituary Websites: Some websites like The Social Memorials offer free obituary postings, although they might have fewer features compared to paid platforms.

c. Personal Blogs or Websites: If the deceased or their family has a personal blog or website, this can be an ideal place to post an obituary for free.

i. Online Search:

a. General Search Engines: Simply entering the person’s name followed by the word “obituary” into search engines like Google can yield results, especially for recent obituaries.

b. Obituary-specific Websites: Websites such as or Obituary Central have vast databases of obituaries. Entering the deceased’s name and other relevant information can help you locate the obit.

ii. Older Obituaries:

a. Local Library Archives: Many local libraries maintain archives of old local newspapers. Using the library’s microfilm or digital databases can help locate older obituaries.

b. Historical Societies: They often maintain records of old newspapers or have archives that could contain obituaries.

c. Ancestry and Genealogy Websites: Platforms like have vast repositories of historical data, including obituaries.

Writing Meaningful Obituaries

To craft an impactful obituary, focus on the individual’s life stories, achievements, and the legacy they leave behind. Begin with basic details such as date of birth, date of death, and locations. Include career highlights, hobbies, charitable works, and personal anecdotes. Remember to mention surviving family members and details about memorial services.

The Evolution of Obituaries in Digital Age

As society shifts more towards digital platforms, so does the world of obituaries. Today, videos, online guestbooks, and memorial websites are becoming more prevalent. These digital tributes offer an interactive way for friends and family around the world to connect and share memories.

The Cultural Significance of Obituaries

Throughout history, obituaries have not just been notifications of death; they have been written records of lives lived. Different cultures have various traditions surrounding death, and understanding these nuances can provide deeper insights into obituaries’ significance in different societies.

Whether you’re commemorating a loved one or researching ancestors, obituaries provide a valuable bridge to the past and a means to honor those who have passed on.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the difference between an obituary and a death notice?

An obituary typically offers a detailed account of a person’s life, including their achievements, personal anecdotes, family members, and sometimes the cause of death. It’s often written in a narrative style. A death notice, on the other hand, is a shorter, more formal announcement of a person’s death, often including just the name, age, date of death, and information about the funeral service.

2. How long after a person’s death should an obituary be published?

The timing varies based on personal preference and cultural practices. Typically, obituaries are published within a week of a person’s death to inform the community and provide details about the funeral or memorial service.

3. How long do obituaries remain accessible online?

This varies by platform. Some websites retain obituaries indefinitely, while others may remove them or archive them after a certain period. However, with the digital age, many obituaries remain accessible for a long time, aiding in genealogical research.

4. Is it necessary to include a cause of death in an obituary?

No, it’s not mandatory. The inclusion of the cause of death is a personal choice. Some families opt to include it for reasons of transparency or to raise awareness about certain health conditions, while others might prefer to keep it private.

5. Can I edit an obituary after it has been published?

For print publications like newspapers, once an obituary has been printed, it cannot be altered. However, on digital platforms, edits can often be made after publication. It’s best to contact the specific platform or publication directly for their editing policies.

6. How can I ensure the online safety and privacy when publishing an obituary?

Avoid including overly personal details such as home addresses, maiden names, or other information that could be exploited. If the obituary website has privacy settings, make sure to review and adjust them according to your comfort level.

7. Are there fees associated with publishing obituaries?

This varies. While many newspapers and websites charge a fee based on the length or features of the obituary, there are platforms and community boards where obituaries can be posted for free.

8. Can I include photos in an obituary?

Yes, most platforms and publications allow for the inclusion of photos, though there might be additional charges. Digital platforms may even allow for multiple photos or video tributes.

9. How can I authenticate an old obituary I found for genealogical research?

It’s best to cross-reference with other sources such as death certificates, cemetery records, or family documents. Additionally, reaching out to local historical societies or libraries can provide more information and context.

10. Do I need permission from family members to publish an obituary?

While not legally required, it’s respectful and recommended to consult with close family members before publishing an obituary, especially if it includes personal details about the deceased or other living family members.

Obituary Examples and Templates

Crafting a heartfelt and informative obituary can be a challenging task, especially during times of grief. To assist in this process, we’ve compiled a few examples and templates that can be used as a starting point. Remember, an obituary is deeply personal, and these templates should be tailored to best represent the individual’s life.

1. Basic Obituary Template

[Full Name], [Age], of [City, State], passed away on [Date of Death]. Born in [Place of Birth] on [Date of Birth], [he/she/they] was [a brief highlight, e.g., “a passionate artist and beloved teacher”].
[He/She/They] is survived by [Names of Close Family Members, e.g., “his wife Jane, children Amy and John, and five grandchildren”]. A [funeral/memorial] service will be held at [Location] on [Date and Time].
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to [Charity/Organization Name]. Memories and condolences may be shared at [Website or Physical Address].

2. Detailed Obituary Example

Margaret “Maggie” L. Thompson, 72, of Springfield, IL, passed away peacefully on June 3, 2023, surrounded by her loving family. Born in Decatur, IL, on November 12, 1950, Maggie was an ardent lover of nature and spent three decades as a biology teacher at Springfield High.
Maggie’s legacy lives on through her two daughters, Claire Thompson-Rodriguez (Luis) and Alex Thompson (James); her grandchildren, Isabel and Rafael; and her brother, John Lindell.
Known for her infectious laughter and deep wisdom, Maggie frequently took her students on nature excursions, imparting not just bookish knowledge but a genuine respect for the environment. She was also an active member of the Springfield Bird Watching Club.
A memorial service celebrating Maggie’s life will be held at Greenwood Park, a place she loved dearly, on June 10, 2023, at 10 a.m. Those attending are encouraged to share their fond memories of Maggie.
The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be directed to the Springfield Nature Conservancy. To leave online condolences, please visit the Thompson Family Memorial Page at

3. Young Individual Obituary Example

Connor J. Whitaker, a beacon of joy and positivity, left us all too soon at the age of 19, on July 15, 2023. Born on April 22, 2004, in Atlanta, GA, Connor was a budding musician and a sophomore at Georgia State University.
With a guitar always in hand, Connor’s passion for music was evident to everyone around him. He dreamed of traveling the world, sharing his music, and touching hearts. Connor’s youthful zest, optimism, and indomitable spirit made him beloved by all who knew him.
He leaves behind his heartbroken parents, Elaine and Richard Whitaker, his loving sister, Nora, and a community of friends and teachers who saw boundless potential in him.
A candlelight vigil will be held in Connor’s honor at Peachtree Park on July 20, 2023, at 8 p.m. Attendees are invited to share their memories and melodies that remind them of Connor.
The family suggests contributions to the National Music Foundation in Connor’s name. Messages of support can be shared at the Whitaker Family’s dedicated memorial webpage:
These templates aim to provide a starting point, but the most poignant obituaries are those that encapsulate the unique essence, achievements, and personality of the individual being remembered.

History of Obituaries

Obituaries, as a concept, have been intertwined with human society for centuries, serving as public records of individual lives and societal evolution. Delving into the history of obituaries offers insights into not just the departed, but also the eras, cultural nuances, and technological advancements that influenced their structure and dissemination.

Ancient Beginnings

The earliest precursors to obituaries can be traced back to ancient civilizations. In Ancient Egypt, for instance, hieroglyphic inscriptions on tomb walls often commemorated the deceased’s life and deeds, serving a similar purpose to the modern-day obituary. Meanwhile, the Ancient Romans etched commemorative texts onto stone tablets or monuments, detailing the individual’s life, virtues, and achievements.

Rise in Europe

Obituaries, as we recognize them today, began to take shape in Europe around the Renaissance. Early obituaries were predominantly reserved for royalty, religious figures, or prominent individuals. These accounts were extensive, detailing their accomplishments, lineage, and societal contributions.

By the late 16th and early 17th centuries, with the rise of print media, obituaries began to be featured in newspapers. The earliest known newspaper obituary appeared in the London Commonplace, a British publication, in 1607.

Democratization in the Modern Era

As newspapers became more widespread and accessible in the 18th and 19th centuries, obituaries evolved. They began including not just the elite but also common individuals. This democratization reflected a societal shift in valuing every individual’s life and contributions, regardless of their societal rank.

During the Victorian era, obituaries became particularly ornate, often portraying the deceased in an extremely virtuous light and employing elaborate prose.

The 20th Century and Beyond

The 20th century brought with it significant changes to the world of obituaries. The two World Wars, in particular, had a profound impact. Due to the significant loss of life, obituaries became shorter and more to the point.

As journalism evolved in the latter half of the century, so did obituaries. They became more personal, capturing the essence of the individual, their personal stories, challenges, triumphs, and legacies.

The rise of the internet in the late 20th and early 21st centuries revolutionized obituaries once again. Online platforms allowed for longer narratives, the inclusion of multimedia, and interactive elements like digital guestbooks. They also made searching and accessing older obituaries easier than ever.

Significant Changes Over Time

While the core concept of obituaries—as a record of an individual’s life—has remained consistent, they have undergone notable changes:

Audience Expansion: From being restricted to the elite in ancient times and early modern Europe, obituaries have expanded to encompass all members of society.

Stylistic Evolution: The writing style has shifted from the highly ornate Victorian prose to more concise, journalistic writing in the modern era.

Technological Influence: Digitalization has not only affected the medium but also the content and accessibility of obituaries, adding multimedia elements and making archival searches more effortless.

In conclusion, obituaries are a reflection of the times in which they are written. They serve as individual narratives, while collectively telling the story of societal evolution, values, and technological advancements. For academic purposes, analyzing obituaries across different eras can provide a wealth of insights into cultural, technological, and societal shifts.