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August 24, 2020 Beyond The Dash

Listing Family Members in an Obituary

Who should be included?

Listing Family Members in an Obituary
Deciding which family members should be included in the obituary story can be very political within families. The obituary writer must ensure all names are correctly spelled and included in the final published story. (Shutterstock)

The issue of whom to include in a deceased person's life story can be a sensitive one. The obituary story can be a point of contention with the inclusion or exclusion of certain relations. Spelling matters too. Even unintentional errors have the power to disrupt mourners. It's worthwhile to put thought into the obituary.

Who to include

  • Parents

  • Stepparents

  • Spouse

  • Children

  • Stepchildren

  • Siblings

  • Step siblings 

  • Grandparents

  • Godparents

  • Special friends


Any previously deceased relatives of the person who has died are known as predecessors. They are typically listed in obituaries as a record of familial connections, but this also provides context to their life. For example, knowing that a parent was predeceased by a child or spouse is a powerful insight into the story of their life. 

The list of predecessors can also include particularly close friends, or those who made a significant impact on the life of the deceased person. 

Get the facts straight

Because an obituary is typically only published once, it's important to get all the factual details right. Once it's published, errors in the story could be perceived as careless at best, or vindictive at worst. 

Double-check all facts, including dates, places, milestones and spellings of names. As the writer of the obituary, you'd never want to inadvertently offend a grieving family member. If the relationships of the predecessors and survivors are to be noted in the obituary, also confirm these details with family members who have knowledge of the family tree. 

Set personal biases aside

Most families aren't without their fair share of conflict. However, the obituary is not a place to squash beefs with other living family members. This story is personal to your family, but will also live on in archives and online forever. It's important to be factual—and that means including all relevant people.  

Estranged relatives, children born out of wedlock and same-sex partners all deserve a place in the obituary story, unless the deceased person expressed otherwise. In the past, obituaries have been a place to gloss over the parts of life that don't fit the expectations of society. Remember that your loved one's life was unique, and the story should be an accurate reflection of that. 


If there are too many relatives to possibly include in an obituary notice, consider condensing the information. Rather than stating every single cousin and family friend by name, it's acceptable to refer to them by family group. 

For example: "He is survived by sister Alice Hornby and family, brother Tom Shaw and family, and a host of beloved cousins, aunts and uncles."

Life stories keep memories alive

When an obituary is published, the family is making a statement. The person who is being honored left a lasting impression on those left to mourn and is worth remembering. This is a special gift to both the deceased person, as well as their family. Ensure that the life story is accurate and complete, so that this record of life can be visited and revisited for generations to come.

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