On Reading Roots and Rambles…

By Sherry Stocking Kline
February 3, 2012

Reading Marian Pierre-Louis’ Roots and Rambles post this week brought to mind all the ‘good-byes’ we’ve said to loved ones in the past 10 years.

Too many.  And too many that were too young.  It is getting more and more difficult (painful) to attend funerals.

Marian’s blog post reminded me that attending them is not only an important part of the grieving process, it’s also comforting to say goodbye and honor our loved ones when surrounded by the family and friends who share our loss.

Her post reminded me just how much that final goodbye helps begin the healing process.

There are two other important opportunities that some of us (may) have during these times of loss, something that we’ve found important with our family losses. One is writing (or supplying the information for) an obituary, and the other is helping to plan the funeral or celebration of life.

In this post, I’m just addressing the obituary.

I know it can be tempting when an elderly person passes, especially if they have been in a nursing home for a long time and their friends and contemporaries are deceased to make the obituary, well, short and sweet. Name, date of death, date of birth, survivors, etc..

Don’t do it.

Most funeral homes have on-line obituary databases that give you the opportunity to leave behind a real glimpse into your loved one’s life without adding too much to your budget.  It’s becoming common locally to find shorter newspaper obituaries that include links to longer on-line versions.

What should you put in an obituary?

If you are writing the obituary, (or supplying the information for one) then you have the perfect opportunity to put into the obit what you as a genealogist would most hope to learn from one.

I wrote my first obituary when I was in my early twenties. I sat at my typewriter at work (this was before computers), tears streaming down my cheeks, writing an obituary for six-month-old Travis, my nephew’s first child, for the local paper.  It was the least that I could do to honor his life, and let others know of our family’s loss.  It was short, mentioned his parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, his place of burial, and his untimely death from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

I didn’t have the funds to fly to his funeral, but this, I could do.

Six-month-old Travis had touched many lives, but hadn’t lived long enough to join clubs, win awards, join the military or volunteer.

But the obituary of an older person can be rich and full of facts and information to give readers a glimpse into their lives and aid future researchers.

Besides their full name, including nickname, date and place of death, (some obituaries include cause of death as well) local obituaries usually include what the deceased did for a living, such as “Jacob “Jake” Jones, retired farmer, age 47″and may also add in the date and place of birth including city and state.

Besides the basic info, you will need to include the funeral date and time, family visitation times, and memorial(s) information.

Many obituaries include spouse(s), children, siblings, step-children, parents, step-parents, and grandparents, often in the “survived by” or “preceded in death by” paragraphs, and sometimes include where they grew up if different from place of birth or death.

Include the Things You’d Want to Find…

As a genealogist, don’t forget to add in the things you’d hope to find, especially information that will tell future researchers where to search for information, such as church membership and military service including which branch and where served.  Some obituaries include what church they were members of, where they attended high school, college, and graduate school and include degrees obtained as well.

Some obits include clubs he/she was involved with, offices held, honors and awards won, even what hobbies they enjoyed!  Did they love to fish?  Were they avid skiers?  Taught Sunday School for forty years?  Were they humane society volunteers?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if those old newspaper obituaries we find had photographs of our ancestors?  Most online obituaries and many newspaper obituaries today include a photograph of the deceased person.

Many genealogical societies collect obituaries when they are printed in local and county newspapers and sharing your loved ones obituary and genealogical information along with photographs or copies of pictures aids future researchers, and can be another way to back up some of your own family tree information.

Leave Behind a Word Picture…

It’s a simple process to write an obituary that paints a word picture of the person’s life and leave behind a glimpse into their lives for those that follow.

Online Obituary Help & Templates:

Obituary Guide

How to Write an Obituary – Weebly

Elegant Memorials – includes how-to’s & examples


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