On Obituaries

My grandfather, David Earl Oswald, as a young man.

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.

A more recent photograph of my grandfather.

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.