Celebrity Obituaries

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What to say in an Obituary or Tribute

It's not easy to keep alive the memory of a loved one who has passed away. We want to hold on to all that made them special to us, the wonderful things they did, the way they had of saying things, how they made us laugh, and why, when they died, we had tears in our eyes.

And it's not just for our sakes that we want to remember them; it's also for the sake of their family and friends, and perhaps grandchildren not yet born.

Memories of good people are precious, and now there's a way to hold on to them. Through Tributes, you can document the memory of family and friends with pictures and stories that show what made them so special.

Tributes has records of thousands of Americans who have died since the 1870s. You can search for a family member (by name and year of death), and your Tributes search result will provide a page with some basic information, which comes from U.S. government databases. You can turn this basic page into a living memorial to your loved one, with details of where they lived, who they married, who their children and relatives were, what they did for a living and what they believed in. The possibilities are endless.

This article focuses on How to write a Tribute. It is a companion piece to the tutorial How to create a tribute on Tributes.com.

Three types of memorials

There are three types of memorials you can write. The first two are useful for recording the basic information of names and dates. They are fairly straightforward and easy to complete, so we recommend that you use one of these formats for starters. Later you can replace it with the third type, a tribute, which usually requires a bit more time and emotion because it includes your personal reflections about the person who has died.

1. The Death Notice

The purpose of the "death notice" is to publish basic information about the who, when, and where of a person's death. Think of it as a historical record that gives a descendent enough information to know she has tracked down the obituary of an ancestor.

One paragraph, which includes date of death, city of residence, name, and age; name of (late) surviving spouse and children. If it is a recent death, name of funeral home can be included.

The example below is simple and formal.

JONES. June 24, 1980. Durham, N.H. Robert C. Jones, age 57, husband of Elizabeth W. Jones, father of William D. Jones of New York state., Stephen W. Jones of Massachusetts., David T. Jones of California, Jeffrey A. Jones of Vermont, and John R. Jones of New Hampshire. Funeral services were at the Barnes Funeral Home, Rochester, N.H.

Tip: This is the simplest type of tribute. You could post a death notice first and replace it later with a full obituary.

2. The Obituary

The purpose of an obituary is to summarize the life of someone who has died. It starts with the same basic information you put in a death notice and goes on to add details about the person's hometowns, jobs, family members, and personal interests and activities. Details like these can stimulate the memories of friends and relatives who can later add their own thoughts to the obituary and tribute.

Traditionally, the style of an obituary is straightforward, because you want to record the basic information. But it is not necessary to write in a formal style. You should feel free to add your own adjectives and adverbs ("beloved," "hard-working," "caring," "giving," etc.).

Example: The first example below is a pretty formal obituary. The other examples show a range of styles from formal to highly personal.

William C. Jones Jr.

DURHAM, N.H. -- William C. Jones Jr. died June 24, 1984 after a long battle with cancer.
He was the husband of Elizabeth (Smith) Jones and the father of five adult sons.
Born in Lynn, Mass., Feb. 5, 1927, he was the son of William and Mary (Thompson) Jones of Lynn. He attended Lynn public schools, graduating from Lynn English High School in 1944.
He served in the Navy during World War II at the San Diego Navy Yard.
He worked for General Electric all his adult life, starting out sweeping floors at the River Works plant in Lynn. He took advantage of every promotion offered him, accepting management positions in Lynchburg, Va., Syracuse, N.Y., Pittsfield, Mass., and Sommersworth, N.H.
Besides his wife of 45 years, he is survived by his sons: William of New York, Stephen of Massachusetts, David of California, Jeffrey of Vermont, and John of California. He also leaves a sister, Marilyn Watson of Lynn.


  • Joseph Patrick Tagliente died Friday, May 18, in his home in Weston, Mass., surrounded by his family. More...
  • Robert F. Benkelman, who worked to develop radio broadcasting in the Thumb of Michigan, established WKYO in Caro and helped many young local announcers launch their careers, died Friday ... . He was 79. More...
  • Marynoyes Kellogg Holden, lifelong resident of Melrose, passed away peacefully Saturday, March 3rd 2007. She was 88 and had suffered from Alzheimer's disease in recent years. More...
  • Carl R. Thien, 88, was born in 1918 in Queens, NY. He grew up during the 'Great Depression' and worked many odd jobs to help his family. He was once a caddy for Babe Ruth. More...
  • My grandfather, Fraser Barrett Jacob, passed away on July 29, 2004. He was 96 years of age. More...

3. The Tribute

Imagine that you have been asked to speak at a memorial service. What would you say about the person? That's the question you want to answer in a tribute for the Memory Book.

If you have already written an obituary, or at least a death notice, as described above, you are free to omit the details of dates and places and simply devote your writing to your memories of the person. A good writer will be able to combine the tribute and obituary, but it is much more difficult to do that than it is to write separately.

The content of what you say is completely up to you, but remember that your tribute will be read by other friends and family members. Focus on the best qualities of the person, on what you saw and experienced, and be as personal in your writing as you were in your relationship with the deceased.

As to how you write the tribute, there are two basic formats that work well:

Narrative: Tell a story

Tell an anecdote or short story about the person. Set the stage with the who, when, where, and why, but don't get bogged down in too much detail. Just enough to move the story along. Keep asking, what happened next? And end with a sentence that sums up the event. The anecdote can be serious or humorous, but the purpose in telling the story is to show the personality and character of the loved one.


  • Fraser met the love of his life, Doris, at a "sweet-16" birthday party of a mutual friend. Fraser tells the story that at this party, they played a kissing game called "mailbox" and Mimi was the best kisser. Because they were very young when they met and because it was during the Depression, they "courted" for many years until financially they were able to marry on April 18, 1936.More...
  • My father had recently been diagnosed with diabetes. Well, Brant and Josh showed up with a bottle of Captain Morgan's and started making drinks for the three of them. A few hours later my mother and I showed up and my mom was not happy that my father was having a drink with the new diagnosis. Brant looked my mother in the eye and said, "Don't worry Sandy, it is DIET coke." He was so quick witted. More...
  • One evening, when (Joel) couldn't have been more than 6 years old, he began singing at the dinner table. Dad told him that it was bad manners to sing at the table. Joel thought for a moment; jumped up; stood behind his chair and continued to sing. More...

Description: Describe a trait

Paint a picture of the person. Describe physical characteristics - a twinkle in the eye, a winsome smile, a tear welling up. The details create the portrait of the loved one. The advantage of using description is that you don't have to recall a specific incident - you might not remember one. But you can remember the way the person welcomed people into her home, or the way her children cuddled all around her on the couch as they watched the Saturday afternoon horror flick. You'll find yourself using phrases like, "she always ...," or "whenever" ... .


  • Residents of Wakefield may recall seeing Gwen, in her late eighties, daily walking the three miles around Lake Quannapowitt where she would stop occasionally to sit on the bench, dedicated to her husband ... . Nimble in body, mind and spirit. Wise, funny, dry-witted, enthusiastic, merry-hearted, feisty, independent, loving ... she was all these things. More...
  • She was immensely comforted by the unwavering assurance that God was ultimately in complete control of everything, and that He held her hand as she journeyed through the valley of the shadow of death. More...
  • He grew up during the Great Depression, providing additional household income as a child by selling newspapers and shining shoes in downtown Pittsfield. More...
  • His military career was most fascinating, having met and served under Generals Eisenhower and Patton, the latter personally field promoting him to Lt. Colonel for his innovative medical triage of soldiers as the war in Europe was ending. More...
  • Gwen was an extraordinary woman who, in a time when relatively few women pursued higher education, earned a Bachelor's degree from Mount Holyoke College in 1936 and a Master's from Bryn Mawr in 1937, both in French. More...

Impressions: Share your feelings

It's our impressions of a loved one that we treasure most. So feel free to say what you really think or feel. You can write the entire tribute in the first-person voice (I, we, our, etc.). Or you can simply add a final, personal thought at the end.

Here's how one Tributes member ended her tribute to her brother:

Mike also loved to sing along with one of his favorite musicians, Jimmy Buffet. When our family gets together, at some point in the party, someone pumps up the volume and we all start singing loud and proud for Mike:

Cheeseburger is paradise
Heaven on earth with an onion slice
Not too particular not too precise
I'm just a cheeseburger in paradise

Next time you hear that song, maybe you'll sing along and remember him too. More...

Other tips

  1. Write the tribute in a separate text program so you can save it on your computer. Later you can copy and paste it into the form on Tributes.com.
  2. Post a variety of photos from different periods in the deceased's life.
  3. Invite others to add their memories by sending the link for the tribute by "Email to family and friends."