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.

About Anjelica Oswald

Anjelica holds a MA in Public History and certificate in digital humanities from Northeastern and a BA in journalism from Ohio University. She worked as a reporter in New York for four years before starting her graduate degree. She recently finished a year as a digital public history intern with the National Parks of Boston. Areas of expertise: Revolutionary War and Massachusetts records, Spanish fluency.

31 thoughts on “On Obituaries

  1. Can you provide some of the informtion you would like people to know about your grandfather on Find a Grave?

    1. I research on Ancestry.com and have used Find a Grave many times to find extra tidbits of information, to find relatives’ names, etc. It is a great resource.

      1. I have found incorrect family members connected. Had me working up the wrong tree until I realized it. You still have to be cautious.

  2. Findagrave.com is an excellent and free way to document the lives of those no longer living. It should be permanent documentation, and often Findagrave references appear immediately in Google searches.

    1. I agree. I had to pay $500 to have one published for one day in a newspaper. A relative insisted this must be done.

  3. I wrote my obit decades ago and continue to tweak it. It is long and my daughter says the local paper will never print one that long. It is a capsule of who I am inside, and outside. This is the only footprint I will leave. I have lived a very interesting life, worth reading, but not noteworthy in terms of having been in the public eye and in the newspaper. I am going to put it in the profile of my tree at ancestry in case my daughter never submits it to the newspaper. I read every obit in the newspaper because I have an interest in how other people lived.

  4. Your blog-obit sounds like a good option under the circumstances. I have seen submissions published on Findagrave.com as a memorial for persons whose remains were not buried, as with you grandfather. If you start a free familysearch.org account, they have options to add photos and bios about deceased relations who have also been added to their World Family Tree.

    1. Regarding findagrave.com: for those not familiar, it can be a goldmine of information. There are formal obits, but many other resources, say, biographical sketches, Census data, photos, education, military info. I have contributed not only for my immediate family but ancestors, friends, teachers, classmates, figures from history and even museum portraits that interest me. Also strangers whose old or new obits warrant recognition. Some may be already documented, but often any information may be useful. Family links may go back hundreds of years.

  5. Angelica, Sorry for your loss. I too have felt the burden of obituary costs that seem beyond exhorbitant. You have probably already seen them, but as with your blog site there are several free on line places that obituaries can be posted for free. They may not always carry the widest audience but “immortalizing our loved ones in the ether” is often the only way we ordinary folks can go. Kudos for keeping your grandfather’s memory alive beyond the cost. All the best wishes to you. Keep up the good work!

  6. Thank you for this excellent idea for obituary information. To save family the time and energy, I have written my obituary. However, I am very aware of the cost to publish in struggling-to-survive newspapers. Publishing online may be the way to go.

    1. My mother was in a nursing home in a small SD town, the county seat with a population of just under 800. She passed before midnight on a Wednesday; I spent most of the day Thursday on the phone making all the arrangements I could, before driving 6+ hours on Friday to finalize the funeral arrangements Saturday morning. The service was planned for the following Wednesday, but the local weekly paper comes out on Friday, so there was no way to publish an obituary there. I was concerned no one would be aware of the funeral. Well, the small country church was packed. It turned out that in rural communities, especially with the retired folks, checking the funeral home web site for obituaries is something they do almost daily. So, yes, that seems to be a very good place to place them.

  7. I would put a brief obit in the newspaper, with a reference to the funeral home, most of which will have a page for obits with a photo. And people can leave condolences or memories there too.

  8. I hope you uploaded your blog post to the Internet Archive. It’s a great way to preserve our posts for the future.

  9. Grandpas are wonderful! You could also put his obit on his person page on any of the major genealogy sites – Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage. That would also be found gy a google search.

  10. In Baltimore we give printed programs, including the obituary to each person who comes to the service. The Enoch Pratt Free Library collects obituaries and digitizes them so they’re accessible on their website.

  11. I experienced sticker shock of placing an obit for my mom, also. So, I waited for 2 years to place it.
    During that time, I saved up the money so I could afford the type of obit I felt she deserved. The time also gave me an opportunity to write and re-write what I wanted to say and what I thought she’d want said. At the moment of loss, I could never have put together a concise, inclusive and comprehensive article.
    On the 2nd anniversary of her death, I placed the obit referencing the original year of death in the article, so not to confuse future genealogist searches.

  12. I found a brother of my grandfather in an obituary. I thought the man had died young. Had lost him the census, as a teenager. Then, about 3 years later was browsing and trawling for missing relatves and “bingo” there he was under his initials. I knew it was the same (correct) man because my grandfather and great aunt were named as survivors! Made my day!

  13. Oh my gosh . . . this is exactly what happened to me when my Mom passed in 2021! The newspaper cost was prohibitive but it was so important to me to have an obituary in her hometown newspaper, although it wasn’t the one I wanted because I had to do some heavy editing. And then it occurred to me that I could post the full version in my own blog, which I hope will be easy for her descendants to find some day!

  14. Sorry you have lost your grandfather. I agree with several of the comments about obituaries being so costly to print in the newspapers! Having lost several family members over the past 5 years, it’s difficult to pay that kind of money, even though we want and feel the need to honor our loved ones. Many mortuaries are now offering to keep your loved ones obituaries online for free as part of their services to the family. My suggestion would be to write a brief obit for the paper and reference your “full-length” obit at the mortuary’s website where services were provided. It’s a win-win for the family and gives the mortuary a little free publicity.

  15. Our funeral homes have obituaries posted to their website. One can put a brief notification in the newspaper at a far lesser cost, and have it direct the reader to a website where the full obituary can be read.

  16. Find A Grave has provided me with much helpful information. Many contributors have facts gained from research and family information. However, there are also many instances of misinformation, often the result of speculation or unsubstantiated family lore. I have found serious or misleading errors in the records of several of my ancestors.

  17. I have spent over a week now browsing thru obituaries from the newly published digital collection for Lawrence, MA for years 1890-1919 later to go to 1959. It has answered questions I had on relationships doing my family tree. I was lucky enough to find that my G Grandfather had more siblings than originally thought and most of them came to Massachusetts and some even had the sisters’ married names. It’s been a great tool. Obituaries open up a piece of the persons life. I do wish they weren’t so expensive to print. Pieces of histories will be lost without them.

  18. My husband and I own a funeral home and there are many times that an abbreviated obituary is published in the newspaper and a longer version is posted on our funeral home website. Even though someone donates their body to science, there could be a funeral director involved to help facilitate the transfer and process the paperwork. (As was the case when my grandmother died 25 years ago.) If there was a funeral home involved, I’m sure the director would publish your well-written tribute and some photos (even after the fact) on their website. It’s worth a try.

  19. My mother died in August. The funeral director (my 7th grade science class lab partner) told me they no longer put obituaries in the Boston Globe because of the cost, and my brother and I quickly agreed. We did publish in the local weekly, as that would go to most of her contemporaries who might not see it online, and the cost of publication included posting it to legacy.com.

    For Canadian obituaries, there are a couple of good online sources. remembering.ca publishes online all obituaries published in the PostMedia family of newspapers. Le Necrologue (lenecrologue.com) aggregates links to all obituaries published on the web sites of Canadian funeral home, but also allows families to publish a full obituary on the site for a modest fee. Necrologie Canada / Canada Obituaries (necrocanada.com) offers free online hosting of obituaries.

  20. As the librarian for my local genealogical society, I index obits on a regular basis. I am frustrated that I cannot access legacy.com obits because they are linked to a regional newspaper that I do not subscribe to. The subscription cost is exorbitant.

  21. Many funeral folders now include the obituary. I attach these as media to the death fact on my Ancestry.com family tree.

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