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The Origin of Obituaries October 6, 2020

Lit candle in dark room

We’ve all known at least someone who has responded to the question “How are you doing today?” with “Well, my name wasn’t in the obituaries this morning, so I guess I’m alright.” It seems the older we get, the more we are prone to read the daily obituaries, if not looking for our own but the obituary of someone we may have known through the years.

What are the origins of obituaries and how have they changed through the years? How do they differ today from generations or even just a few decades ago?

Obituaries for the Rich and Famous

Originally, early obituaries were only for the notable. In the Roman times, for example, only those in high political positions, generals or the highly educated earned written obituaries. This remained essentially the same until the invention of the printing press in the 1400s.

Gutenberg’s Invention Changes Obituaries

With Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in the 1400s, obituaries changed significantly. Newspapers began to flourish and printed materials became a lot easier to come by. While death notices became more accessible, there were still distance and delivery issues so some may not find out about the death of a loved one for days, weeks or even months. Death notices were still mainly reserved for the notable until the mid-1800s.

The Civil War and Obituaries

Death notices became critical during the American Civil War, in notifying families of loved ones who were killed in battle. These were the times when “average” citizens began to have their deaths recorded in a public manner.

Newspapers and Obituaries

Following the Civil War, newspapers continued to publish death notices or obituaries in their publications. Only major cities, however, generally had daily newspapers. In smaller communities, obituaries were often posted on a businesses door or in a shop window to notify citizens of local deaths. Initial death notices were brief, containing little personal information.

More Personalized Newspaper Obituaries

As years passed, newspaper obituaries contained more information about date and times of final services and even more personal information about the deceased, including family members. Photos and religious images began showing up in obituaries and they began to include more personal stories.

Digital Obituaries

Today, digital obituaries provide an opportunity to tell more detailed stories of a loved one and include more images. Digital obituaries can be made available almost instantly and even condolences can be posted online. Digital obituaries are also searchable, allowing those online to find an obit weeks, months or even years later.

From simple data to lengthy personal details and images, the content of obituaries has changed as much as the delivery methods. Today, we may be just as likely to find out about the death of someone we know from social media as an obituary.

At Fares J. Radel Funeral Homes and Crematory, we can assist you in creating an obituary that is personal, respectful and heartwarming. We can help you in making sure important details are included and that the obituary is published where it is likely to be seen.

For pre-planning or an immediate need for funeral services in the Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati area, we invite you to contact our family at Fares J. Radel Funeral Homes and Crematory. We would be honored to serve you.

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