Obituaries have long been a way for communities to commemorate the lives of those who have passed away, encapsulating their essence in a few heartfelt paragraphs.

The Origins and Popularity of Obituaries

The tradition of obituaries can be traced back to ancient Rome, where the Acta Diurna or “daily acts” were displayed in public places. These announcements included births, deaths, and other significant events, much like modern newspaper notices. Obituaries first appeared in the press in the 16th century, with the advent of the printing press1. However, it was in the 18th and 19th centuries that obituaries became widely popular, with the rise of newspapers and their expansion into local communities2.

Common Practices and Best Practices for Writing Obituaries

Obituaries typically follow a general structure, which includes the deceased’s name, age, date of death, a brief biographical sketch, information about surviving family members, and details about the funeral or memorial service3. However, to truly capture the essence of a person’s life, it’s essential to go beyond the standard format.

Here are some best practices for writing an obituary that honours the individual’s unique story:

  1. Craft a compelling narrative: Rather than simply listing facts, weave a narrative that illustrates the person’s character, values, and impact on others. Share anecdotes, memories, or quotes that embody their spirit.
  2. Highlight their passions and accomplishments: Celebrate the deceased’s achievements, hobbies, and commitments, painting a vivid picture of their life’s journey.
  3. Be authentic and genuine: Write in a tone that reflects the person’s personality and values. Avoid clichés or embellishments, and instead, focus on genuine expressions of love and admiration.
  4. Include practical information: While the narrative is crucial, don’t forget to include essential details such as the date and location of the funeral or memorial service, and any preferred charities for memorial contributions.
  5. Proofread and revise: Take the time to carefully review the obituary for accuracy, grammar, and punctuation. Ensure all names and relationships are spelled correctly and double-check any listed dates.

The Evolving Role of Obituaries in the Digital Age

With the rise of digital media, obituaries have found new platforms beyond traditional newspapers. Online obituaries and memorial websites allow for a more interactive experience, with added features such as photo galleries, videos, and guestbooks for sharing memories4. Furthermore, social media has become a space for both public and private expressions of grief and remembrance.


Obituaries serve as a timeless testament to the lives of those who have passed, capturing their stories and contributions in a heartfelt narrative. With a mindful approach, obituaries can honour the unique essence of an individual, leaving a lasting impression for generations to come. As we continue to adapt to the digital era, the art of writing obituaries will undoubtedly evolve, offering new ways to celebrate and remember the lives of those we have lost.


1 Eisenstein, E. L. (1980). The Printing Press as an Agent of Change. Cambridge University Press.

2 Vincent, D. (2007). The culture of death. In Jupp, P. C., & Howarth, G. (Eds.), The Changing Face of Death: Historical Accounts of Death and Disposal (pp. 15-26). Palgrave Macmillan.

3 National Funeral Directors Association. (n.d.). How to Write an Obituary. Retrieved from

4 Walter, T., Hourizi, R., Moncur, W., & Pitsillides, S. (2012). Does the internet change how we die and mourn? An overview. Omega: Journal of Death and Dying, 64(4), 275-302.