How to Write a Funeral Biography

Writing a funeral biography requires more research if you didn't know the deceased.
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A funeral biography usually is for one of two things: an obituary or a eulogy. The type of information in each differs somewhat. A eulogy is more personal than an obituary and often longer. How easily you compose the biography is dependent upon factors such as how well you and others knew the person; how much interaction you had with the deceased; and how many facts you know off the top of your head about items such as the person's birth date, family members and hometown.

1 Provide Obituary Basics

For an obituary, include the deceased's full name with applicable honorifics; birth date; date of and age at the time of death; the names of the person's spouse, offspring, grandchildren and great-grandchildren; and both current and past hometowns. If the deceased was in the military, include the rank and unit with which she served as well as any awards. You may add information about employment, education and any important accomplishments; for example, "Ms. Jones graduated from Harvard University and was a longtime employee of R, Inc. She was an avid runner and participated twice in the New York City Marathon." If the family welcomes visitors at the funeral or memorial service, state the location, date and time. Also note if donations in the person's name are being encouraged; for example, "In lieu of flowers, please send a donation in Ms. Jones' name to the ASPCA."

2 Gather Anecdotes

Ask those close to the deceased about their memories -- whether sweet or humorous. Longer anecdotes work best in a eulogy, where you have as much time as you want -- within service time constraints -- to talk about the past. If you know or learn anything about the person's hopes and dreams and whether they were fulfilled, include that information. For example, if the deceased wanted to be a nurse, you might say, "Robert always wanted to be a nurse. His compassion for others and positive outlook on life was a perfect fit for his chosen career."

3 Accentuate the Positive

A funeral is not the time to air grievances. If you or someone you talked to has a less-than-flattering story to tell, omit it. If no one has anything kind to say, stick to more basic information as you would for an obituary. Expand on facts as much as possible. For example, focus on how long she worked for a company or the fact that she raised four kids to adulthood as a single mother. If the person was in the military, you could mention where she served as well as any honors, if any, she received.

4 The Unknown

Writing a funeral biography about someone you don't really know, or writing one on behalf of someone else about a total stranger, is not as hard as it may seem. It's fairly easy to compose an obituary since it involves primarily gathering and organizing facts. A eulogy, however, involves creatively expanding and commenting on the facts. For example, if you know only that the deceased was a teacher for 40 years, it's easy to conclude that educating people was important to him. If he had four dogs, two cats and a parakeet, he was no doubt an animal lover. Such easily drawn conclusions can open the door to the creation of a meaningful eulogy about even those you never knew.

Sheila Smith is a copy editor and writer with more than nine years of experience editing and writing for international media syndicate Tribune Media. Additional clients have included Times Union and Edgenuity. She has been involved with several nonprofit organizations, provided etiquette instruction for cultural and religious events and has experience in event planning.