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What Is an Obituary? Facts and Purpose

Gabrielle Applebury
woman reading newspaper

Understanding what an obituary is can assist you if you are writing one for a loved one, pre-writing one for yourself, or come across one in the newspaper. It is a short overview of the deceased person's life events and milestones.

Obituary Meaning

An obituary is an announcement that someone has passed away, that is often printed in a newspaper or published online. Obituaries often include biographical information, a list of familial survivors, accomplishments, hobbies, and information regarding visitation, a memorial service, or funeral service. Synonyms include mortuary tribute and death notice.

Why Do They Call it Obituary?

The word obituary has its origins in Latin with obitus meaning to meet or go towards one's death. The word obit is an old French term meaning to die from or fall. The suffix -ary typically means belonging or connected to.

What's the Difference Between an Obituary and Death Notice?

An obituary and death notice have some similarities, but there are some significant differences. An obituary is often longer than a death notice, shares biographical information, and is not required to print after a person passes away. A death notice states facts, without getting into detailed biographical information, is often short, and can be used to notify beneficiaries and creditors of assets. Death notices may be placed with the obituaries or with the classifieds.

What Is the Purpose of an Obituary?

The purpose of an obituary is to honor an individual who has passed away and to notify the community of their death. They may also note the memorial, funeral, and/or visitation information for the public. Obituaries may be printed in local newspapers, online, or in national papers if the individual was well known.

How Do You Write an Obituary?

Whether you are pre-writing an obituary for yourself, or writing an obituary for your father, mother, a child, a sibling, or any other relative, there are a few tips to keep in mind. To begin, you may want to follow a step-by-step obituary format. Be sure to include:

  • An announcement of the death
  • A summary of their accomplishments and significant life moments
  • A list of surviving family members
  • The details of the visitation, memorial, and/or funeral
  • A picture if you'd like to include one
man writing in book on table

Examples of Types of Obituaries

Reading some sample obituaries can help you create your own for yourself or a loved one. For example:

Short Obituary Example

(Deceased individual's name) passed away peacefully in his/her home surrounded by loved ones on Monday evening. (Deceased individual's name) was a valued member of the community and was actively involved in volunteering at the local animal shelter, had a passion for their career as a professor of psychology, and wrote two top-selling books. (Deceased individual's name) is survived by their spouse (insert spouse's name), and two beautiful children (list children's names). The funeral will be held this Saturday at 4 p.m. at the (insert funeral location).

Why Publish an Obituary?

Obituaries are published as a way to announce the passing of an individual to the greater community. They also help communicate funeral, visitation, and/or memorial information that the public may be interested in. Writing an obituary also creates a public record of the deceased individual's traits, hobbies, accomplishments, as well as their surviving family members.

How to Arrange an Obituary

Obituaries can be arranged in a variety of ways depending on where you'd like it published. You can set up an obituary via an online obituary site, by calling or emailing your local newspaper, or by reaching out to the funeral director to help you organize.

How to Search for an Obituary

Obituaries are free to search for. To search for an obituary, you can use a genealogy site, search for death notices in local papers, do a google search with the deceased individual's full name, and check out local newspapers housed at your public library. Finding a past obituary may take some time, but with some effort, you may be able to find what you're looking for.

Obituary Versus Eulogy

An obituary is printed in the paper or online and notes the details of an individual's life, accomplishments, familial ties, and can also include information regarding the funeral, memorial, or visitation. An obituary alerts others in the community of a passing, while a eulogy is a speech given at a funeral or memorial. An eulogy offers the opportunity to share special memories of the deceased individual and mention notable relationships in a much longer and publicly spoken format than an obituary.

How Do Obituaries Work?

Obituaries are written as a way to honor a loved one's life after they've passed away. Understanding the ins and outs of obituaries can assist you in writing one for a loved one or pre-writing one for yourself.

What Is an Obituary? Facts and Purpose