The following rules were developed when obituaries were treated as news items and therefore subject to our house rules of format and style. Since The Free Lance–Star has moved to paid obituaries, some of the rules—such as the distinction between first- and second-day obits—are no longer relevant.

Many are still applicable, however, and should be followed whenever possible, especially when we compose an obit based on data suppled by the funeral home.

A fully written obit supplied by the funeral home should be followed closely, not rearranged to conform strictly to our format, but many of the style rules still apply.

The procedures for creating the obit and updating the obit box remain the same.

Deadlines: Full obits must be in our office by 3 p.m. for the next morning's paper. Incomplete death notices will be taken until 9 p.m.
• If we receive complete obituary information by the 3 p.m. deadline, we run an obituary in the next morning's paper.
• If the information is incomplete or is received after deadline, we run a death notice the next day and an obituary the day after that (or as soon as we have complete information).

We accept obituaries by email, by fax or in person from funeral homes or relatives. For any obituary submitted by a relative, the death must be confirmed by a funeral home or a police agency, or substantiated by a death certificate, to guard against fraud.


Check for new obituaries on the fax machines in the newsroom and the advertising department, and in the Unsorted basket next to the newsroom fax machine.

Remember: The forms sent in by funeral homes may contain errors, so don't hesitate to call them with questions.

Photos: Fill out a scan sheet, attach the picture and take it to a photo technician.

When you've finished writing an obit, press the F7 key; open this obit file from the file menu; type Ctrl-Alt-F which will send a proof copy to the printer and an electronic copy automatically to Obits/Out to Proof; Take the proof to the copy editors and fax to the funeral home. When you have finished writing all the obits:
• Write a list of the obits by last name and indicate which ones have pix. Copy the list and give one to the paginator and one to the copy editor.
• Update the obitbox file in Obits/Misc; then copy the file and send it to Obits/Pagination.
• Initial and date the original forms and put them on Mary Lee's desk.


In Ted, create a file in Obits/Writing and name it using the format 0105obrown (date it will run, an “o” for “obituary,” and the person's last name). File characteristics should be:

Format: FLS
Category: Obituary
Locality: Regional
Type: Local


To format the headline, hit F9 to get the brackets and type obithd: >obithd<. Type the person's name (remember to use a space between initials) and hit ENTER. The news format will pop up and you can type the obit.

For a death notice, hit F9 and type death inside the brackets: >death<. Type the person's name, hit ENTER and type the notice.

•Do not use courtesy titles (Mr., Mrs.) in the headline.
• A nickname is used in the headline if the funeral home gives us one. Headline should read: Scooter Jones (no quotation marks); lede should read: James R. “Scooter” Jones. (Note that the nickname comes immediately before the surname.)
• If nickname is obvious for the first name (in the above example, if the nickname were “Jim”), put first name, middle initial and last name in headline, and full name in lede. In second or third graph, mention that Mr. Jones was known as Jim.
• If person went by initials, headline would read J.(space)R. Jones, with James Robert Jones in lede.
• We do use Sr. if the family wants it, and we do use Jr., III, etc.
• If the obituary subject was a member of the clergy, use the title in the headline and on first reference, but use Mr. or Mrs. on later references: Rev. Wallace E. Griffin (headline and first reference); Mr. Griffin (second reference).
• If the obituary subject was a military officer or a physician, the title is used on all references: Brig. Gen. John H. Thorsted (headline and first reference); Gen. Thorsted (later references); Dr. Rebecca Souter (headline and first reference), Dr. Souter (later references).
• Do not use “Dr.” except for a medical doctor.


• Give the full date of death: Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2001, at . . . (use comma after year).
• If a date (of the funeral, for example) is the same as the day the obit will run, use the day of week, month and day (ex. Tuesday, July 9). Don't use “yesterday” or “tomorrow”; if it's not today, specify the day of the week. Don't give the full date unless needed for clarity: A funeral will be held at 2 p.m. Monday.
Yes, this is different from our style for news stories; it's our style for meeting and event notices.
• Always rephrase as necessary to suit our style. See Survivors and family, Miscellaneous style rules and other guidelines in this file.
• Don't use courtesy titles (Mr., Mrs., Miss) in headlines or ledes, but DO use them on later references, as appropriate, for both men and women. See examples.
• From infancy to age 13, boys and girls should be referred to by their first names. From age 14 on, use courtesy titles (Miss, Mr.) as for adults.
• If the subject is a child, the lede should give the child’s name and the names of the parents: Samuel Tyler Baxter, 4, son of Robert and Juanita Baxter of Spotsylvania County, died of leukemia Sunday, May 14, at Children’s Hospital in Washington.
• If the deceased is from a community within a county, use both place names. Example: John Doe, 75, of Sparta in Caroline County died . . . The county name is not necessary when the deceased is from a town (Bowling Green, for example) or a well-known community like Falmouth or Dahlgren. This can be confusing when there is a town with the same name as the county—Culpeper or Orange, in our area. Try to clear it up with the funeral home. If in doubt use County, since those towns are within their respective counties.
• For how to handle survivors' residences, click here.
• A viewing means the body will be on display, but the family may not be there. In that case we use the phrase The body may be viewed . . . If the family will be present, say The family will receive friends . . . If family members will not be present and the casket will be closed, say Friends may call . . . If it's not clear what form the visitation will take, check with the funeral home.
• Don't list pallbearers or honorary pallbearers unless the family wants it.
•If the funeral home doesn’t provide an address for memorial contributions, check the file obitexpressions in Obits/Misc for a list of some of the most frequent beneficiaries.
• Always include the name of the funeral home, so people will know whom to contact for further information. If it isn't mentioned earlier, say at the end of the obit that [So–So Funeral Home] is handling arrangements; spell out Funeral Home or Funeral Service.
• Both Mullins & Thompson and Found & Sons have “no-frills” affiliates called, respectively, Sensible Alternatives and Found & Sons Arrangement Center. If they arrange a graveside or church funeral or a cremation, we would say at the end of the obit that, for example, Sensible Alternatives is handling arrangements. If the arrangements are being made by Sensible Alternatives but the visitation or funeral is being held at one of Mullins & Thompson's chapels, that fact will be mentioned in the body of the obit and there is no need to mention Sensible Alternatives at the end, since it is a part of Mullins & Thompson.

Survivors and family

• We list by name the immediate survivors in any order the family wants. We give the number of grandchildren; number of great-grandchildren; and number of nieces and nephews, and we do run the names of surviving grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, in-laws or other distant relatives unless those relatives were raised by the obituary subject, lived with the obituary subject or are the only survivors. (If raised by or lived with, say: a niece, Mary White, who was raised by Mr. Brown.)
For all named survivors, give the place of residence. For those in our coverage area, use the same system as for the residence of the deceased. It is not necessary to give the residence of a spouse or child who lived with the deceased. For any other relative who lived with the deceased, say of the home: his mother, Mary Smith of the home. See also the entry for Companion, below.
For named survivors who do not live in our coverage area, give the town and state or country.
Deceased spouses should be named in the biographical info by saying: He was the widower of Jane Brown or She was the widow of John Brown.
Deceased children should be named at the end of the survivors list: Mr. Brown was also the father of the late Ruby Brown.
Deceased parents: Don't mention them unless the obit subject was over 100.
Companion: If the form lists a survivor who lived with the obituary subject but was not a spouse, and if we know that it was a romantic relationship (as opposed to an arrangement of convenience, such as that the person took care of the obituary subject), that survivor is named first, and is referred to as a companion (or fiancé(e), if so listed by the funeral home). The preferred wording is: Survivors include his companion, [name], who lived with him.
If the person lived with the obituary subject as a caretaker, but was not a relative whom we would ordinarily name, include that person’s name (and relationship, if a relative) at the end of the list of survivors: and [his cousin] [name], who lived with and took care of him.
Adopted child: Our policy is to treat adopted children as we would treat any other sons or daughters, and that means not mentioning the adoption. However, funeral homes will sometimes list a child as “adopted” just to get that name into the obituary, even if no formal adoption took place. It is always wise to ask. If the child was not formally adopted but was raised by the obituary subject we will run the child’s name with an explanation of the relationship.
Unborn child: We do not normally list an unborn child as a survivor. If the funeral home or family insists, and with the permission of the editor in charge, we might use a carefully worded description such as: Survivors include his wife, Caroline Fisher, who is expecting the couple’s second child.
• A fiancé (male) or fiancée (female), companion or caregiver(s) can be listed at the end of survivors list (but see the entry for Companion, above).
• No friends or pets listed as survivors, please.


• A World War II Army veteran or an Army veteran. It's Korean War, not “Korean Conflict”; also Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War.
• Military decorations: A medal is never “won” or “earned”; it is awarded. The following medals can be mentioned, in the order listed. Do not list any other medals unless approved by an editor.

Medal of Honor
(NOT “Congressional” Medal of Honor)
Distinguished Service Cross
Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star
Legion of Merit
Distinguished Flying Cross
Soldier's Medal
Bronze Star
Purple Heart
Meritorious Service Medal
Air Medal
Joint Services Commendation Medal
Army Commendation Medal

Miscellaneous style rules

• Don't mention the person's birth date unless he/she was over 100.
• Never say the person died “suddenly”; say unexpectedly.
• Never say someone was a “homemaker.”
• Say funeral, not “funeral service,” which is redundant.
• Say the Rev. Joe Doe. When two ministers are officiating, both get the Rev. before their names. If the funeral home gives a different title for the person officiating (e.g., Elder, Deacon, Rabbi), use the title given; do not, however, use Dr. except in the case of a medical doctor.
• A Mass is celebrated, not “said” or “sung.” It's always capitalized, but lowercase any adjectives, as in high Mass or requiem Mass.
• A rosary is said or recited, never “read.” It's always lowercase.
• A person is buried in a cemetery, not “at.”
• For a mausoleum, say the person is entombed in Sunshine Memorial Gardens.
• Say memorial service when the person has been cremated.
• Ashes are committed, not “buried”: Committal of ashes will be in Oak Hill Cemetery.
• Avoid the word “chapel,” except when referring to Mullins & Thompson Funeral Service, Fredericksburg (or Stafford or Spotsylvania) Chapel, or to Found & Sons Funeral Chapels, Culpeper (or Fredericksburg, etc.).
• Capitalization of the word “cemetery”; examples:

Oak Hill Cemetery
Quantico National Cemetery
Hull's Memorial Baptist Church cemetery
the Burton family cemetery
• Say someone retired or had retired, not “was retired.”
• Refer to a business by the name it had when the deceased worked there (even if the name has since changed).
• Contributions to a favorite charity, not “your” favorite charity.
• See the file obitexpressions in Obits/Misc for a list of frequent beneficiaries of memorial contributions, with their addresses.
• Don't say someone was an “active” member of an organization, just a member, and list any positions he/she held.
• Don't say someone was a “lifelong member” of something unless he was born into it. Life member is OK.


First-day obit

These full obits should lead with person's name, age, locality of residence, cause of death if under 60, date and place of death. If they live outside our coverage area, but used to live here or have a parent, child or sibling here, include that information in the lede graf. Full obits should also include biographical information; names of survivors; date, time and place of funeral and burial, visitation; name of funeral home; and information on contributions.
If the funeral is not in Virginia, don't include the name of the minister, visitation hours, or burial information (unless it's a graveside service), and don't put it in the obit box.

Bootsie Brown

     Susie Lenora “Bootsie” Brown, 58, of Fredericksburg died of cancer Sunday, Aug. 13, 2006, at her home.
     Born in Stafford County, Mrs. Brown had worked as a secretary at A.W. Mitchell. She was a member of Fredericksburg Baptist Church and was a Girl Scout leader.
     She was educated in Stafford public schools and was a graduate of Mary Washington College.
     Survivors include her husband, Jim Brown; two daughters, Dorothy Ann Jacobs of Fredericksburg and Sarah Brown of Chillicothe, Ohio; a son, Jim Brown Jr. of Richmond; a sister, Tilda Flower of Stafford; and two grandchildren.
     A funeral will be held at noon Friday at Fredericksburg Baptist Church with the Rev. Bill Brown officiating. Burial will be in Oak Hill Cemetery.
     The family will receive friends one hour before the service time at the church. The family requests that expressions of sympathy take the form of contributions to the American Cancer Society, c/o Trudy Clifton, HC72, Box 1527, Locust Grove, Va. 22508.
     Mullins & Thompson Funeral Service, Fredericksburg Chapel, is handling arrangements.
Death notice

Bootsie Brown

     Susie Lenora “Bootsie” Brown, 58, of Fredericksburg died Sunday, Aug. 13, 2006, at her home. Arrangements are incomplete at Mullins & Thompson Funeral Service, Fredericksburg.

Second-day obit

These full obits run the day after a death notice. They contain the same information as a first-day obit, but include final funeral information the biography of the deceased, survivors and other information provided by the funeral home or family.

Out-of-town obit
NOTE: Do not confuse with out-of-state funeral, below.

For people who never lived here and whose only local connection is a parent, child or sibling who lives in this area:
• Keep biographical info to a minimum. Mention employment or one other important fact but omit club memberships and activities.
• Only local survivors and spouse should be listed by name; give only the numbers of other relatives (two sisters, four other brothers).
DO include expressions of sympathy and the name of the funeral home in charge.

Out-of-state funeral
NOTE: Do not confuse with out-of-town obit, above.

For any obit, resident or out-of-town, if the funeral is not in Virginia:
• Don't include the name of the minister, visitation hours, or burial information unless it's a graveside service.
Note: In exceptional cases, we will include an out-of-state funeral in the obit box if (1) it's in Washington or nearby Maryland and (2) we think a significant number of our readers will want to attend. Check with an editor if you think this might be the case.

This first-day obit combines an out-of-town obit AND an out-of-state funeral:

Death notice

Mary L. Tait

     Mary Lenora Tait, 86, of Houston, Texas, died at her residence Wednesday, Jan. 27, 1999. She was the mother of Tilda Flower of Stafford County.
     Mrs. Tait had retired as an executive secretary.
     Besides her daughter of Stafford, she is survived by her husband, Randall Tait; another daughter; a son; a sister; three brothers; and six grandchildren.
     A funeral will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Lee Funeral Home in Houston.
     The family requests that expressions of sympathy take the form of contributions to the American Cancer Society, c/o Trudy Clifton, HC 76, Box 1527, Locust Grove, Va. 22508.

Mary L. Tait

     Mary Lenora Tait, 86, of Houston, Texas, died Wednesday, Jan. 27, 1999. She was the mother of Tilda Flower of Stafford County.
     Arrangements are incomplete at Lee Funeral Home, Houston.

Second-day version

Mary L. Tait

     A funeral for Mary Lenora Tait, 86, of Houston, Texas, will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Lee Funeral Home in Houston.
     Mrs. Tait died at her residence Wednesday, Jan. 27, 1999. She was the mother of Tilda Flower of Stafford County.
     Mrs. Tait had retired as an executive secretary.
     Besides her daughter of Stafford, she is survived by her husband, Randall Tait; another daughter; a son; a sister; three brothers; and six grandchildren.
     The family requests that expressions of sympathy take the form of contributions to the American Cancer Society, c/o Trudy Clifton, HC 76, Box 1527, Locust Grove, Va. 22508.

Double obit

If two or more family members die together—in an accident, for example—write a joint obit:

Daniel and
Chantal Ward

     A funeral for Thomas Daniel Ward, 28, and Chantal Boyer Ward, 27, of Silverthorne, Colo., will be held at 2 p.m. today at Mullins & Thompson Funeral Service, Fredericksburg Chapel. Mr. Ward was a former resident of Woodford in Caroline County.
     The Rev. Bob Melvin and the Rev. Dewey Powell will officiate. Burial will be in the Waller–Mattera family cemetery in Woodford. The family will receive friends from noon until 2 p.m. Saturday at the funeral home.
     A memorial service will also be held at 4:30 p.m. Monday at St. Francis Episcopal Church in Great Falls.
     The couple, married Friday, Nov. 19, in Woodford, died in an automobile accident on Monday, Nov. 22, 1999, near Golden, Colo.
     Mr. Ward is survived by his mother and stepfather, Gradye L. and Ralph M. Mattera of Woodford; his father and stepmother, Paul B. Ward Sr. and Pat Shea Ward of Great Falls; a brother, Bruce Ward Jr. of Alexandria; a sister, Jeanne Ward of New York City; two nephews and three nieces.
     Mrs. Ward, formerly of Montreal, Canada, is survived by her mother, Theresa Tardif of Montreal.
     They both were employed by Club Med.
     The family requests that expressions of sympathy take the form of contributions to the Daniel and Chantal Ward Endowment Fund, c/o St. Francis Episcopal Church, 9220 Georgetown Pike, Great Falls, Va. 22066.


The obit box runs daily, is stored in Misc/Writing and is slugged obitbox.

• Delete funerals that have taken place.
• Insert new names (surname and first name only; use the nickname if it was used in the obit headline), maintaining alphabetical order. Give the date, time and place of the funeral. Then name the funeral home if the funeral won't be held there, but for the sake of brevity omit “Funeral Home,” “Funeral Service,” etc. In the first example above, the entry would read:

Brown, Bootsie: June 19, noon, Fredericksburg Baptist Church. Mullins & Thompson, Fredericksburg.
• DO NOT include out-of-state funerals.
• DO NOT include private funerals.
• A funeral is included in the box for up to three days: the day the obit appears in the paper, the day before the funeral and the day of the funeral. If there will be a gap between the day the obit runs and the day before the funeral, include a note in editor's remarks telling which dates to run it later on. (Hit Alt+F11 to begin remarks; hit F11 to end remarks.)
• When you're finished, save the updated file. Then make a copy, name it for the next day's paper (0105obitbox) and send it to Obits/Pagination.

adopted child
cemeteries; when to capitalize "cemetery"
child's obit
coverage: what areas, what people
dates: when to use today (but never
     “yesterday” or “tomorrow”)
deceased spouse, child, parent
double obit
expressions of sympathy
formats: when to use first-day obit,
      second-day obit, death notice
Free Lance–Star obituary policy
funeral homes
miscellaneous style rules
out-of-state funeral
out-of-town obit
residence of the deceased, of survivors
survivors and family
titles, courtesy
titles, military and professional
viewings and visitations

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