Help Writing an Obituary

An obituary serves to announce the death of a family member or friend, but it’s also a memoir – a capsule of that person’s life story. It’s an opportunity give readers a better understanding of who she, or he really was.

The task of writing an obituary can seem daunting, but it shouldn’t be. There are no rules regarding the form of an obituary, especially here on and, unlike newspapers, we don’t charge by the length of an obituary.

A general obituary format has taken shape over the years, so we’ve laid out five basic points in a format guide below. Remember, this is just a suggested outline. Feel free to be creative. Read other obituaries to get ideas. Although we don’t limit the length of an obituary, we do advise that you risk losing the interest of readers by including every small detail of your loved one’s daily life. Try to strike a balance by celebrating those personal characteristics that made your family member, or friend, a wonderful person. Most importantly, make sure that the information is accurate.

1. Gather the facts. Make an effort to find out the information you don’t have.

  • Full name of the deceased
  • Age at time of death
  • Date of death
  • Date of birth
  • Most current city and state of residence
  • City and state of birth
  • Names of mother and father
  • Name of spouse
  • Date of marriage
  • Names of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren
  • Names of siblings or other family members, including those survived by and predeceased
  • Associations to which the deceased belonged, including places of worship, clubs, organizations, volunteer groups and professional memberships
  • Hobbies and other things that were important to your loved one
  • Occupation and places of employment
  • Accomplishments and awards, great or small
  • Schools attended and degrees obtained
  • Military service, including branch, unit and wars served
  • Time, date and place of wake, memorial or funeral service. If you don't have this information yet, you can always come back to and add it later.

2. Write the obituary notice. Use third person speech, starting with the name, age, last city residence and the date of death:

  • Mary Cassidy, age 87, of Roanoke, VA, passed away peacefully on Oct. 15, 2013.

State the names of parents, place of birth and date of birth:

  • She was born on August 20, 1926 to the late Joseph and Rita Kennedy of Richmond, VA.

Add the names of the spouse, children, grandchildren, siblings and other family members when practical. If the extended family is large, it’s appropriate to limit the people actually named in the obituary to immediately family. Remember, this is not about you so don’t leave out anyone due to personal feelings, and don’t forget step-families:

  • She married Richard Cassidy on July 18, 1945, and spent 50 years by his side until his passing on Aug 4, 1995. She was the proud mother of Richard Cassidy of Richmond, VA, Thomas Cassidy of Topeka, Kansas, Lynn Hill (Cassidy) of Roanoke, VA and Kevin Cassidy of Brunswick, NJ. She was the adored grandmother of Michael, Stephen, Susan, John and Heather; and great-grandmother to 5. She was sister to the late John J. Kennedy of Richmond, VA.

Tell the decedent’s story and don’t be afraid to highlight the small things that help define the life she or he lived.

  • Mary grew up in Richmond and graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in 1944. She graduated from Johnston-Willis Hospital Nursing School in 1946, and moved to Roanoke later that year to be with Richard, her new husband and high school sweetheart. Following the birth of her first child, Mary devoted the rest of her life to raising and caring for her growing family, and took great pleasure in their company.
  • She was an accomplished cook and gardener who spent countless hours, until the last weeks of her life, melding those skills by creating delicious meals for family and friends, using produce and herbs grown in her own garden. She involved her children, and then grandchildren, in all of her kitchen activities, which insured that her best recipes would survive her...

Share any memorial service arrangements open to the public:

  • Relatives and friends may call at Victory Church, 55 North Ave. in Roanoke, VA on Friday, Oct. 18, 2013, from 3 to 6 p.m. The funeral mass will be held on Saturday, Oct. 19 at 9:30 a.m. at Victory Church. Interment will follow in the St. Andrews Cemetery in Roanoke at 12:30 p.m.

Mention a favorite charity:

  • Memorial contributions can be made to the Good Samaritan Hospice of Roanoke -

3. When you are finished writing the obituary notice, proof read and spell check what you wrote. Make sure it’s complete and accurate. Verify the spellings of all names of people and places. Don’t be afraid to make revisions until it sounds and looks right. Try setting it aside for a brief period of time, then proof-read it again. Ask someone you trust to proof read it as well.

4. Correct any typos and other errors before submitting it to

5. Add a clear "head & shoulders" photo of the decedent. Use a recent photo that depicts him or her in a manner most recognizable by family and friends.