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Write Your Own Obituary

Write Your Own Obituary

Years ago, I was a part of a genealogy society where we had a member who was passionate about one aspect of genealogy. She believed everyone should write their obituary. At every meeting, you could count on her standing up with a form reminding everyone of the importance of writing an obituary. It got to the point where some would roll their eyes because the lecture about obituaries was coming. As a young mother, the last thing on my mind was my obituary, but I admired her passion for the topic. Years later, when she passed away, the obituary that appeared in the local newspaper was one she crafted.

How Do I write My Obituary?

She was right. You are the best person to write your obituary. After all, you are the expert of your life. You know who you're related to, what you accomplished, and what organizations you belong to. Sure, there are some facts you may not know, like when and where your funeral will be held, but you know the majority of what needs to be written. As a genealogist, the benefit of writing your obituary is that it will be accurate for future genealogists (unless you embellish it).

So what should you write? After years of genealogical research, you probably know what you like and don't like in obituaries. You most likely have read dozens, if not hundreds. However, it can still be difficult to write an obituary, whether it's for you or someone else. A free resource that provides different types of obituary examples is Ever Loved. You can also find templates and guides online by searching "obituary template" or "how to write an obituary." Reading your local newspaper (the one you think the obituary will be placed in) will also give you some idea of what to include.

As you consider crafting your obituary, some possible facts to include:

  • Full Name and Nickname (if appropriate)
  • Post-nomials or titles held
  • City of residence
  • Spouse's name
  • Parents names (and residence)
  • Survivors (obviously, you don't know for sure, but the person who inherits this and is tasked with the estate can edit it)
  • Membership organizations
  • Hobbies
  • Religious affiliation
  • Causes that are important to you
  • Occupation (years at that occupation)
  • Military Service

Also, consider adding a sentence at the end for directions, such as "in lieu of flowers" or where donations can be sent. Pick out a headshot photograph that can be placed with the obituary (if finances allow).

Don't Forget

Along with your funeral arrangements, you should also set aside money for placing the obituary in newspaper(s). You might be surprised how much an obituary costs, and often it's the one thing that isn't "necessary," so it doesn't get published because of lack of funds. If you want your obituary in a specific newspaper, leave the money to pay for that (add a little extra, assuming the price will increase over time). Obituary cost is determined by word count and size of the obituary (how many lines it takes up). If you publish it in multiple papers, may those financial arrangements to ensure it happens. In many cases, it will cost at least $100 and more to place even a short obituary with no photo (and that's not one of the major city newspapers). Free options can exist, but they are few and far between. Take some time to contact the newspapers you're interested in to learn more about their obituary guidelines and fees.

Talk to a family member, close friend, or the executor of your estate who can place the obituary for you and let them know what you prefer. If you've already written the obituary and provided the financial means, all they need to add is the death date and funeral information.

Let's face it, two things are guaranteed in life. Death is not the easiest topic to think about, but as genealogists who rely on obituaries to learn more about our ancestors, we should consider our own obituary a priority.


Gena Philibert-Ortega is an author, instructor, and researcher. She blogs at Gena's Genealogy and Food.Family.Ephemera. You can find her presentations on the Legacy Family Tree Webinars website.



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Several years ago, my father's cousin, who had heart problems and on oxygen, knew she was near the end, and instructed her relatives what she wanted done for her funeral. She wrote most of he obituary, and taped it to the inside of he door at her nursing home. I thought that was so forward thinking of her at the time, but now think it is a great idea. I know what I want done with my collections (others may call it junk) so I need to write it all out for my executor. There need not be a disagreement among my survivors of who gets what. I will clearly spell it out. So too, my obituary. I want it to say what I want.... not what someone else can remember!

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