How Do I Write an Obituary?

We understand the desire people have to be creative and stand out.  Most likely you are writing this about someone you love and care deeply for.  This is an opportunity to write what generations to come will be able to go back to and see their legacy.  One of the beauties of the internet is the unlimited space and in most cases Free platform.  We do want everyone to understand that newspapers can be very expensive and charge by the character.  The newspaper online presence is Legacy and hopefully we have given you more options in the Where section.

Think of an Obituary in three four paragraphs. 

  1. The announcement of a death and service information
  2. The biography
  3. The survivors
  4. The donation or memorial requests


The opening paragraph format is important because it is about awareness and if you will take our advice, the search engines (Google, Bing, Etc.) will pick up the obituary if people type it in this format.

Name, Age, City of Residence, date of death, City the death took place, when, where and what time the funeral or gathering is to be and which funeral home/crematory is handling the services.

An example would be:

John Doe, 81, of Roanoke, VA, died May 15, 2015 in Dallas, TX.  A memorial service will be held at the Botanical Gardens in Roanoke on May 29, 2015 at 2:00 p.m.  Arrangements are by XYZ funeral home.


Here are the reasons this layout for the first paragraph are important.  The name is mentioned first: we suggest this be by the name the decedent was known by.  This is how it will be found on computers all over the United States.  His/Her full name can start the biography paragraph, but make the opening name be what everyone knew him/her by.  The age and residential city. There may be several Mark Smith’s and if you can start to narrow it down by the age and city of residence, it will help those friends and family searching for it online. 

It is important to list the cities as google places reads them and picks them up.  The city name, comma, and the two letter state abbreviation.  Use this template for city recognition throughout the obituary. The date of death. This lets people know how current they are finding the information.  The word died is picked up as Associated Press style as factual.  This was not meant to be cruel or calloused but a description of a newsworthy event.

People can change that verbiage to 

Passed Away, Passed Away Peacefully at Home, Passed Away after a long and courageous battle with ….  This is an area that we understand people may want to mention the disease that the individual had suffered from, or something as direct as. died in an automobile accident.  People use this opening sentence to sometimes tell the public how someone died so they won’t have to answer questions about it constantly.  Other people want to keep this aspect private and simply say died, or passed away, etc.

The city in which the death took place can be important because it will be picked up by search engines as newsworthy and sometimes it is very natural for a medical larger community to be the healthcare option for people living rurally close to the larger city where the hospital is located.

The service information. Our opinion is that if there is going to be a publicly held gathering or funeral service of any kind, this information should be finalized before the publishing of an obituary.  We understand that people will have memorial services sometimes a month later, but if the obituary is published before the service has been set, the family can expect to constantly be having friends and extended family asking them “When will the service be?”

What day, what time and the place are important for people to get on the calendar.

Lastly the funeral home/ or crematory handling the service.  This can be important for the public because they can call that business for clarification, directions or flower delivery protocol.

The second paragraph of an obituary (or second part of an obituary outline) would be the biography.

This is where the more a future generation can know about their grandfather/grandmother, father/mother or family relationship is helpful.  Genealogy, ancestry, history all comes in this aspect of an obituary.

  1. Start with the full name, this will allow people to know not only their ‘known by’ name but also their given name.  Family names are recognized and given in honor or memory of family names.  
  2. was born on (date) write out the month, day, year
  3. to (parents) mention the mothers’s maiden name for help to future generations.
  4. grew up at – mention cities and once again, use the city name, two letter state abbreviation.
  5. schools attended and graduated from ( add years of graduation if able)
  6. person that they married and once again, use the wife’s maiden name if possible/ date and place they married.
  7. places they worked, both company names and city/state abbreviation that the work took place.
  8. Organizations they were members of and where.  Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, etc.  List offices held in those organizations.
  9. Church affiliation
  10. Hobbies/ Interests/ personality traits
  11. Family members who preceded them in death. Parents are mentioned as being born to such and such parents and unless they are still living the tradition is that the parents will have passed away first, but brothers/ sisters and younger relations will not get mentioned unless the obituary writer uses this area. 

 The 3rd aspect of an obituary would be the surviving relatives.  Again, we encourage people to use the names that the public knows someone by.  i.e. James Doe of Denver, CO.  The search engines will pick these names up when people look for them and once again, the standard city/ two state abbreviation that those people are associated with is important.

When people are married, we recommend using: brother James Doe and wife Jane of Denver, CO or daughter Jane Smith and husband Jack, of Denver, CO;

Typically mentioned in the obituary survivors are:

Spouse, if there is one

Children and their spouses and cities of Residence

Siblings (Brothers and Sisters and their spouses and their cities of Residence)

Parents if still living and their city of residence.

Grandchildren and great grandchildren.  Some people list just the numbers, some people are more informal with names and just give the first names.  Some give the full names and their spouses and leave off their cities of residence; others, list their names and cities of residence so the people in those towns know that they had a grandparent or great grandparent pass away.

The 4th paragraph or final part of the obituary would be the request for donations or memorials.  These are charities that the family would like money sent to.  Some families say in lieu of flowers because they don’t want flowers. Some families just know that their friends might rather send a contribution in honor of the decedent rather than flowers.  The family often uses this area to share a charity or organization that they have supported in the past or this can be another clue as to how a person might have died. i.e. The American Cancer Society, Heart Association, or a local organization.


So an obituary might end with ” The family suggests memorials be sent to (The Alzheimer’s Association, 225 N. Michigan Ave., Fl.17, Chicago, IL 60601.)  We suggest putting the address or website to help the friends who want to donate specifically where you want it.