Obituaries Have Changed Through The Years
By Donna Davenport
Obituaries of the past rarely gave a date of death. More commonly,
there was a day of the week listed. A date of death is a tad frustrating to figure
out 100 years or so later with the time of death listed as Wednesday at 10 a.m. and the funeral is to be on Friday at 2 p.m. I was lucky in my Aunt's collection to find a year often pencilled in that the event occurred. These weren't always correct, but at least they were approximately close.
Being from a different era, where women are considered more important than in the past, one of my pet peeves is an older obituary that only lists the woman as Mrs. (and the husband's name only). Really now, SHE WAS a person. Couldn't they have at least snuck her first name in there somewhere to help us figure out who she was years and years later?
Most of the time, only the surviving spouse and children are listed. How nice it is when all of the children the person had are listed including the girl's first names as well as where they lived.
Activities of the life of the deceased is something I always look for which makes their life a more complete picture. It is easier to visualize them as a living, breathing, animated person who loved, was loved, and if lucky grew old to spend time with their parents, siblings, children, and grandchildren, and perhaps even great grandchildren. One could hope their lives didn't include illness and suffering, but most lives do. The saddest losses to me are to see that a couple lost children young or that the children lost their parents at a young age which happened all too often.
When doing nursing, I often cared for patients that were elderly and in the last stage of their life. They sometimes were too ill or debilitated to communicate. In reading their obituaries after they had passed, I often was amazed at what a great and full life they had led. They may have had a family that they had loved very much and had been loved in return. Perhaps, sometimes, the children had preceded them in passing on. If only we could have known some of that while we were caring for that person. I would like to think it wouldn't have affected the quality of care. It just might have helped us to feel that we knew the person better.
I find some of the obituaries of years gone by go into great detail of the person's illness or cause for passing. This included details of suicides. This is no longer the case in more recent obits and that is a good thing. However, I find myself wanting to know the reasons for their demise, although not in all the gory detail of the past. I look at who they suggest contributions for and think that may be their cause of death. Sometimes it is, but certainly not always.
In conclusion, obituary information has changed through time, but I feel modern day obituaries are done well on the whole and are more inclusive of pertinent details of interest for historians and genealogists as well as friends and family.