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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Obituary for WW1 death

An obituary is a death notice which often includes an attempt by an author, publication, or news organization to give an account of the life of someone considered significant who has recently died. It can, however, be simply a death notice (also known as a funeral notice), and may be a paid advertisement written by family members and placed in a newspaper either by the family or the funeral home.[1]

Many news organisations have pre-written (or pre-edited video) obituaries on file for notable individuals who are still living, allowing detailed, authoritative and lengthy obituaries to appear very quickly after their death.



The first obituary is very difficult to trace, however many candidates are found at the advent and popularization of the printing press circa 1500s. The first obituaries were concise, simply containing the deceased name, birth date, death date, and cause of death.

During the late 1800s John Thadeus Delane, an English editor of the London newspaper The Times, saw the potential for obituaries and began publishing them. This entailed newspapers recognizing a person's death as a solemn and important event that needed more than just a short announcement. As a result, obituaries grew in length and elaboration, containing short prayers, poems, and brief biographies.

At the onset of the 1900s modern advances in printing technology allowed obituaries to contain images; this allowed obituaries to become more elegant, but more solemn as well. As the late 1990s and early 2000s saw the internet become more popular and ubiquitous, obituaries became digitized and available as a search result in addition to newspapers.[2]

Premature obituaries

By definition, obituaries should always be posthumous. But occasionally obituaries are published, either accidentally or intentionally, while the person concerned is still alive. Most are due to hoaxes, confusions between people with similar names, or the unexpected survival of someone who was close to death. Some others are published because of miscommunication between newspapers, family members and the funeral home, often resulting in embarrassment for everyone involved.

Irish author Brendan Behan said that there is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary. In this regard, some people will seek to have an unsuspecting newspaper editor publish a premature death notice or obituary as a malicious hoax, perhaps to gain revenge on the "deceased". To that end, nearly all newspapers now have policies requiring that death notices come from a reliable source (such as a funeral home), though even this has not stopped some pranksters such as Alan Abel.


Obituaries are a notable feature of The Economist, which publishes one full-page obituary per week, reflecting on the subject's life and influence on world history. Past subjects have ranged from Ray Charles to Uday Hussein.

The British Medical Journal encourages doctors to write their own obituaries for publication after their death.

Pan Books publishes a series called The Daily Telegraph Book of Obituaries, which are anthologies of obituaries under a common theme, such as military obituaries, sports obituaries, heroes and adventurers, entertainers, rogues, eccentric lives, etc.

See also


  1. ^ "Talk to the Newsroom: Obituaries Editor Bill McDonald". New York Times. September 25, 2006. Retrieved 2008-07-28. "The paid notices are classified ads. They're gathered and placed in the paper or on the Web by the classified advertising department, which operates independently of the news department. Because they generate revenue, the paid notices get as much space as they need. We, on the news side, who only spend revenue, are generally promised three columns of a six-column page: half the page, that is, in various configurations. Sometimes it's less, sometimes more, depending on how many ads are sold."  
  2. ^ "Tribute To The Deceased: The History of Obituary Writing". Retrieved 2008-06-10.  

Further reading

  • Marilyn Johnson, The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs, And The Perverse Pleasure of Obituaries, Harper Perennial, ISBN 0-060758-76-7
  • Alana Baranick, Jim Sheeler, and Stephen Miller, Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers, Marion Street Press, ISBN 1-933338-02-4
  • Hugh Massingberd, Daydream Believer: Confessions of a Hero-Worshipper, London: Macmillan, 2001, p.245.

External links



Up to date as of February 01, 2010

From Familypedia

An obituary is a notice of death, commonly published in a newspaper.

Length can vary from a couple of lines giving the bare facts, up to a full page biography, depending on the person's public standing and the newspaper's policies.

See also

This article uses material from the "Obituary" article on the Genealogy wiki at Wikia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.


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