Some obituaries provide little to no information aside from the deceased individual’s age and death location—but others can be invaluable sources for learning more about a person’s life and family.
Many of the earliest obituaries were merely death notices. These generally included age, death location, and maybe a spouse’s name. Sometimes, they included how the person died. In more recent times, however, obituaries have evolved into descriptive memorials for deceased family members, providing unique information about a person’s life. They can be useful for linking family members throughout history.
The cost of publishing an obituary can deter people from preserving these priceless stories about their loved ones. I learned this recently when I lost my 95-year-old grandfather, David Earl Oswald. Last year, I wrote about how lucky I was to still have him to talk to, but unfortunately, on 21 March 2023 he passed away at his home in Florida.
My father asked me to put an obituary together to honor my grandfather’s life. He was a Depression-era baby, the youngest son of four. He was a father of seven, a grandfather to 14, and a great-grandfather to five. He was a science teacher who taught in Venezuela and traveled widely, and he was my favorite person in the world.
I put an obituary together, but honoring him in the newspaper was going to cost over $1000, something we couldn’t afford. Even by cutting it down and taking the picture away, I could only get the price down to $500.
We ultimately decided not to publish because of the cost. I was frustrated. As a genealogist, I understand what a useful tool an obituary is to learn about a person’s life. Obituaries have the power to tell and preserve the story of a life, which can easily be forgotten with the passage of time. We didn’t even have a funeral notice to put together—as a man of science, my grandfather chose to donate his body to help educate other students.
I didn’t want my grandfather’s story to be lost after we’re all gone, so I did the next best thing I could do—I published it myself, on my own personal blog. Sure, people aren’t reading it or finding it as easily as they would a newspaper. But because I put it out on the internet, it can be found.
I told my grandfather’s story. Thanks to the internet, anyone else can do the same.