Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Right after the obituaries

I hope my friend doesn't mind me repeating the story, but he gave me what I believe was a complement today when he said that he always read my posts, right after the obituaries. Hmm now that I think about it, I'm not sure if he was trying to tell me something? I guess I should be honored that my blog posts rank right up there with the obituaries in interest. I have been a long time reader of the obits myself. In fact, that is one section of the paper newspapers I hardly ever miss. I wonder if my interest in the obituaries has something to do with my interest in genealogy? Could be. They are similar subjects. Although I think the obituaries have an appeal only in a certain sized town. If you live in a very small town, you probably have already heard about any untimely deaths (aren't all deaths untimely?) If you live in a really large city, it would be very unusual to know any of the people who had died. So, you have to live in that small/big town environment before obituaries become mandatory reading.

One of the things I have said I was always going to do was to put my high school graduation picture in my obituary. The reason is simple. Everyone who reads obituaries will automatically look at the ones with pictures of young people to find out what happened. I have noticed in Utah, the obits always give a cause of death, sometimes in more detail that is absolutely necessary. In Arizona, it is just the opposite. None of the obituaries give a cause of death. I think that is unfortunate because then you have to go try and find out from the relatives at the funeral and that could be awkward. Too bad. A lot of the people in Arizona all ready put in their high school graduation picture. You see the picture of a strikingly beautiful young lady on the obituary page and then read the text to find out she died at age 97. Maybe people like to remember their loved ones as young instead of old. As a card carrying member of the older geezer generation, I think that trend is anti-aging and promotes age discrimination and should be stopped. So there.

If you enjoy good fiction, you will love the obituaries. For example, X (who was a serial murderer) is reported as being a quiet and unassuming person by all who knew him. Cause of death? Sudden heart problems (caused by execution at the penitentiary!). I know, this is ridiculous, but some of the people I have known for a very long time were almost unrecognizable by their obituary. If all the obituaries are correct assessments of character, then why is there so much crime, poverty, and other problems in the world? No, really. If you don't know what I am talking about, you haven't read many obituaries. Children who haven't seen their parents in years, write glowing tributes to the deceased. Relatives who haven't spoken since the last war, mourn over the loss of their highly regarded family members. Have you ever read an obituary that said, "Good riddance?"

As genealogists, even though we know, in our heart of hearts, that obituaries are pure fiction, we still regard them as the gospel truth. I once spent a considerable time looking through the records of a small town trying to find a relative who was reported in the obituary of her father as living in that town. If she lived there, she was living under an assumed name. We know that obituaries are written by people who were not usually there when the person was born, knew little about the person and has only the sketchiest of an idea about the family, but we still tend to believe everything they say. If you are over the age of 65 and don't live anywhere near any of your children, admit it, they know next to nothing about you or your activities.  I meet people regularly who don't know their parents' full names and this is the person who is going to write the obituary?

Some people I have known (notice the past tense) have written their own obituary. I have yet to see the relatives allow the deceased's version to be printed however. But there is something to be said about writing your own, at least you might get the facts straight and not lead some well-meaning genealogist of the future off on a wild goose chase!

1 comment:

  1. I can so identify with this post. I have for years (even as a young adult) read obituaries. There must have been a budding genealogist in me many years ago.

    My mother passed just before I started my research. For some reason it just seemed important to include the details of her life, her family, her character. Some of that came from her requesting over and over again through the years that certain things were to be included in her obituary.

    Being a family historian, I do want my obituary to contain certain information. I have asked my family several times about details of my family, like "Where was I born?", "What was my mother's maiden name?". I grew up knowing these things about my parents, yet my own children don't seem to really know everything I would like them to know when it comes to paying their last respects through my obituary.

    Guess I will have to write my own! lol