At Sunset View Cemetery and Mortuary, our experienced staff members help families throughout El Cerrito, El Sobrante, and Contra Costa County honor their loved ones with meaningful funeral services. We also support families in writing obituaries that capture their loved one’s unique life story. If you’ve ever had to write an obituary for a loved one, you may have wondered about the history of this type of written death notice. The obituary is much older than you might expect and has transformed over the years into something entirely new.

The Original Obituary

The obituary dates to around 59 B.C.E. when ancient Romans wrote on papyrus. The word “obituary” is derived from the Latin obitus,meaning “death.” A daily newsletter made of papyrus was passed out to the Roman public and featured death announcements—the original obituaries. In the early United States, the obituary was known as a “Bill of Mortality” or a “Memorial Advertisement.” Each one tended to be brief, often only a short paragraph in length. Even George Washington’s obituary fits this mold!  

Changes to the Obituary

More widespread use of the printing press led to longer obituaries being published. As the Industrial Revolution progressed from the end of the 18th century to the mid-1800s, the majority of obituaries highlighted a person’s job, the hours they worked, their wealth, and social status. Occasionally, a child’s obituary might include a line of poetry written in their honor. Soon local funeral homes began to submit death notices to newspapers for publication. The American Civil War and its myriad of related deaths inspired families to embrace more creativity around their loved ones’ obituaries. More details were added to these obituaries regarding the individual’s personality and religious background.

The Modern Obituary

With the onset of worldwide internet use in the 1990s, the popularity of print newspapers naturally waned. As a result, the obituary moved primarily online. Many digital obituaries, including those for individuals honored at Sunset View Cemetery and Mortuary, allow visitors to the page to leave a condolence message or share a memory. Many of these obituaries are shared on Facebook and other social media platforms to raise awareness about the individual’s passing and communicate details about the upcoming funeral service to family and friends.

If you need help writing an obituary for a loved one, please contact our staff. We are always ready to help families honor their loved ones in a meaningful way.