How to Write an Obituary - Do's and Don'ts

An obituary should serve as a thumbnail sketch of the individual's life, including birth, education, military service if any, volunteer service in lieu of military service such as Peace Corps or VISTA, occupations and achievements, religious affiliation, fraternal organizations and survivors.

It can be as thorough or as brief as the surviving family wishes. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind:
If the deceased was known by a nickname not readily discernable, it should be noted. Someone with the last name of Smith is often called Smitty, so that need not be included; but if someone named Norman is best known by the nickname "Boomer," that should be included.

Women should be listed by the maiden and any married name(s); Mary Elizabeth Connor Davis Jenkins. This will allow any friends or neighbors from her childhood to the present to recognize her name more readily. Or, list as "nee maiden name" in the body of the obituary.

Military service should be recognized, as well as lifelong associations with fraternal organizations. Those would include, but are not limited to: political party affiliation, especially if a onetime chair of a local gathering; fraternities, Elks, Eagles, Moose, Masons and veterans' groups such as the VFW or American Legion.

Include associations within and for the benefit of the community: Boy or Girls Scouts, YMCA, YWCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, CYO or other church sponsored youth groups such as AWANA, etc.

Union membership should be included with description of occupations, i.e. "UAW at the Ford assembly plant in Cleveland," "IBEW with Local #157."

A listing of children and grandchildren, either by name or number, should be included. Where the children live, if not local; grandchildren may be numbered with their parents. Spouses of, should be listed with the children as they occur.

A modest listing of favorite hobbies or other places of residences and vacations may be included, depending on how meaningful they were to the deceased.

If the family has decided that they would rather not have flowers, it is best, and some funeral homes will already have a standing policy, not to use the phrase "no flowers," but rather the term, "in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to" and then the specific organization(s) may be named, or "a charity of the donor's own choice."

If pictures are included, selecting them is a bit of a delicate task. There may not have been a "good" picture taken for some time, and the individual may have always favored their high school graduation picture, but will their most recent friends recognize them from a photo 40 years old? It doesn't have to be of studio quality to be a good picture. Bring several and ask your funeral professional which they think can be enlarged or cropped to have a presentable image for the paper.

At this point, you might want to develop two obituaries, one for the local or home newspaper, the other to be distributed to weekly community press type offerings as well as the hometown papers of the children. After all, their friends might wish to send condolences to the children for their loss within their own communities.

One final consideration is that every community's newspapers operate under different guidelines. Some obituaries are printed free of charge. Some funeral homes will include the charge as part of their services. Others will list the cost as a separate item on your bill. Some papers charge by the column inch for obituaries, which can be costly with a larger, more complete sketch of the decedent's life. If you have any additional questions, ask your funeral professional.