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The Obituary: A Reflection of Life and Legacy

Published: February 29, 2024
by Kuzo and Foulk Funeral Home

In the annals of human history, few literary forms have captured the essence of life and death quite like the obituary. This succinct yet profound piece of writing serves as a memorial, a celebration of life, and a testament to the legacy of those who have passed away. But how did this tradition begin, and how has it evolved over time? In this blog post, we'll explore the history of the obituary, its changing purposes, and the dos and don'ts of writing one.

The Origins of the Obituary

The word "obituary" is derived from the Latin word "obitus," meaning "death." Its roots can be traced back to ancient Rome, where public notices of death were posted on the "Acta Diurna," a daily gazette that served as a precursor to modern newspapers. These notices were brief and factual, listing the deceased's name, age, and sometimes their accomplishments or lineage. As the printing press gained popularity in the 15th century, the obituary became a more widespread form of commemoration. In England, for example, the "death's head" was a common symbol used in early obituaries, often accompanied by a short eulogy or poem.

The Evolution of the Obituary

Over time, the obituary evolved from a simple death announcement to a more detailed reflection of the deceased's life and accomplishments. In the 19th century, newspapers began publishing longer obituaries, often written by family members or friends, that provided a more comprehensive picture of the person's character and contributions.

The 20th century saw further changes in the obituary's format and content. With the rise of digital media, online obituaries became increasingly popular, allowing for multimedia elements such as photos and videos. Social media platforms also shaped the obituary, with many people now sharing memories and condolences online.

The Purpose of the Obituary

The primary purpose of the obituary is to inform the public of a person's death. However, it also serves several other important functions:

1. Honoring the Deceased: The obituary provides an opportunity to celebrate the life and achievements of the deceased, highlighting their contributions to their community, profession, or family.

2. Informing the Community: Besides announcing the death, the obituary often includes information about funeral or memorial services, allowing friends and acquaintances to pay their respects.

3. Preserving Family History: Obituaries often include details about the deceased's family members, providing a valuable resource for genealogists and historians.

4. Expressing Grief and Gratitude: Writing an obituary can be a cathartic experience for family members, allowing them to express their grief and gratitude for the life of their loved one.

Dos and Don'ts of Writing an Obituary

When writing an obituary, it's important to strike a balance between honoring the deceased and respecting their privacy. Here are some dos and don'ts to keep in mind:


1. Include Basic Information: Start with the deceased's full name, age, and date of death. You may also want to include their date and place of birth.

2. Highlight Accomplishments: Mention the deceased's achievements, such as their career, education, or volunteer work. Be sure to focus on positive contributions to the community.

3. Include Family Information: Provide the names of surviving family members, including spouses, children, and siblings. You may also want to mention predeceased family members.

4. Add Personal Touches: Share anecdotes or memories that capture the essence of the deceased's personality. This can help readers understand who they were as a person.

5. Include Funeral Information: Provide details about any funeral or memorial services, including the date, time, and location. You may also want to include information about any charitable donations that can be made in the deceased's memory.


1. Avoid Negative Language: Focus on the positive aspects of the deceased's life, and avoid using negative or judgmental language.

2. Respect Privacy: Be mindful of the deceased's privacy and avoid sharing sensitive or personal information without permission from the family.

3. Avoid Excessive Detail: While providing a comprehensive picture of the deceased's life is important, avoid including unnecessary or irrelevant details.

4. Be Respectful: Treat the obituary as a tribute to the deceased, and avoid using humor or sarcasm that could be perceived as disrespectful. 5. Check for Accuracy: Double-check all facts and spellings before publishing the obituary to ensure accuracy.

In conclusion, the obituary is a timeless tradition that serves as a reflection of life and legacy. From its humble beginnings as a simple announcement of death to its modern incarnation as a multimedia tribute, the obituary continues to evolve, reflecting changes in technology, culture, and society. By following the dos and don'ts of writing an obituary, we can ensure that this important tradition continues to honor the memory of those who have passed away.

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