The History of the Obituary

The word obituary derives from the Latin word for death which is obit. It was back in the 18th century that a published death notice was referred to by this name, yet obituaries have been around for much longer. In fact, American newspapers in the 16th century would often publish a brief notice when a person died. It wasn’t until three centuries later that the obituary as it is now known, a detailed account of the person’s life, started appearing in publications.


The mood of an obituary is often a sign of the times. For example, in early times, the value of life was often emphasized due to the hard nature of daily life for individuals. Religious and sentimental obituaries, however, were more common during the Civil War.


At one time, obituaries were written in poetic verse. This trend was seen for a short time period during the early 19th century. However, it did not last long.


Individuals who were well known in a community were more likely to have an obituary written. This could be a public servant, a pioneer, a soldier or a celebrity, along with many others. Mitchell Stevens, a historian, reports this was due to increased interest on the part of the audience regarding any aspect of the person’s life, including their death. It wasn’t until the late 20th century that the average person began to gain more attention in obituaries.

The Details of Death

At one time, in the 1800s, people became fascinated with the details of death. As a result, obituaries shared information regarding the cause of death for the person, doing so in graphic detail. This was known as death journalism and was frequently seen in the United States as well as England.

With the introduction of the internet, individuals now have access to more obituaries. As time passes, many of the obituaries of the past will be uploaded to the web for anyone to view. In fact, this process has already started. People can click here to read obituaries of individuals across the United States. It is a great resource for anyone interested in the past, so be sure to check it out.