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January 1, 2019

Let's Talk About Our Own Obituaries and Tombstones!

Have you thought about your own demise? Yes, as genealogists we know that it happens to all of us. And as genealogists we're usually fairly comfortable talking about it. When my brother and sister-in-law visited us a few days ago, we got talking about our own deaths, our funerals, did we want to be cremated or not, and where we might want to be interred. When I told the story of my husband and I wanting to buy our burial plots now, my sister-in-law shuddered. She was visibly upset by the conversation.

So let's talk about it here!  While I haven't gone so far as to plan my funeral or write my own obit (although the thought of doing so is tempting!), last year I have put together a copy of what I want done after my demise. Yes, really. I jotted notes on items such as burial versus cremation, what cemetery I wish to be buried in - and what inscription I want on a headstone.

I've been married three times (divorce then death brought me to my third husband) - should I put all three of my husbands' names on my stone? Do I want to have number one's name immortalized for eternity on MY stone??

My thoughts began to stray to having inscriptions like the following: "beloved wife of husbands two and three" and "long-suffering and not-so-beloved wife of husband number one aka he-who-shall-not-be-named"


What about my parents' names and places of birth? As a genealogist I want it all! I found myself fantasizing about having a 4-generation pedigree chart engraved on a huge headstone. Has it been done before? Is there room on a headstone?

As a genealogist, I'm also concerned about my own obituary! After reading through hundreds of my ancestors' obits, I know exactly what I wish had been in each. Why oh why were women's maiden names so infrequently mentioned? Why does my great grandmother's obit simply say "she came with her parents from Ireland when she was a young girl"

Acck! Could they not have written something a bit more detailed, such as "she came with her parents John Smith and Lucy McGillicuddy from Ballyhoogan Co. Down Ireland in 1843 on the ship Rosemary which sailed from Belfast Ireland to Quebec on 23 May..."

My children never seem to remember that I was born in Oshawa, not Ajax (which is where I grew up). Neither my kids nor my husband seem to remember how my maiden name McGinnis is spelled!

So I've written down all the facts that I want included in my obit. My maiden name McGinnis (spelled correctly of course). My parents' names and where they were from. Where and when I was born. My husbands' names (yes, even he-who-shall-not-be-named). Where I lived until the age of 17. Where I went to University. A little bit about my interests and hobbies. My children's names. I've even included my 11 grandchildren's names although I doubt anyone will want to pay enough to have them all mentioned.

By the way, I will NOT have hubby number one's name on my tombstone and prefer it not to be in my obituary ... I managed to get him out of my life, why on earth would I want him around in my death? I won't even be bothered to come back and haunt him. It's not that I wish any harm to befall him - he simply doesn't exist for me. Gone. Done.

I'm doing this for future generations who will (hopefully) be looking for me 200 years from now. It was a bit disconcerting when I first began, but as I went along I really became quite interested in the task! After writing down all my notes for my tombstone inscription and obituary, I placed them in a large manilla envelope labelled "For my executor" and put it in an antique blanket box. Family members know where to find these papers.

I didn't make copies and send them to my children because I may want to add or remove items. When you come right down to it, I'm planning on sticking around a very long time! Who knows how many things I might want to change in the future.

What are your plans?


Toni said...

I've decided cremation. Scattered here on my farm. No funeral. No grave stone. What history I leave behind is whatever anyone looks for. I know all about brick walls. I'm living in fear that my most annoying one will not get solved in time. But I think I could be found easily enough if anyone looked. And if not.. oh, well. I've been having a great time playing detective and solving my familiy's mysteries. Someone else should have as much fun.

KTC said...

Several years ago, I penned a piece on writing my own obituary and included some funny and/or inspirational ones that I had read:

I LOVE the idea of including a partial family tree on the back of my tombstone. Since genealogy has been my passion for most of my life, this would be a perfect addition to my headstone! Thanks for the idea!

The Van Deventers said...

My husband and I have made our plans - funeral home arrangement, cremation AND, having discovered the lovely gravesite of my great grandfather, his wife and his mother in law (my 2nd great grandmother, in Nyack, I decided that is where I want to to/to be remembered. It is a lovely spot overlooking the Tappan Zee and Hudson River high on a hill. The stone was undermined and propped up when I first visited and I had it stabilized. More recently, I made arrangements with the cemetery to have our names inscribed on the stone - my name and my relationship to the originals - great granddaughter of....

How pleasant it is to think that our children don't have to do any funeral planning after our demise nor do they have to secure a place for interment. At the same time, our deaths can be remembered once a visitor views the gravesite.

Wondering said...

As a thought experiment, I wrote my own obit last year. It was a useful exercise and I found it thought provoking. How would I like to be remembered? Who in my life is important to me? What are the non-family relationships that I most prize?

In addition, I wrote a list of instructions on what to do with my soft assets: my websites, emails, and archives. I'm someone whose research is nearly entirely electronic. I've spent 20 years amassing that data so it makes sense to spend a few minutes writing down what I'd like done with it when I'm not around!