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03/30/2010

Down the rabbit hole of paid obits

March 30, 2010 |  2:37 pm

Some readers of the obituary page make it a daily stop as they cruise through the newspaper or the website. Judging by the feedback we receive, they peruse the offerings for different reasons. Some want to see who is the latest famous person to die; others are looking for a neighbor or loved one; still others know that even if they hadn't heard of the deceased before they may learn something new or simply enjoy a good story.

In this department we cover people who were newsmakers during their lifetime. Alongside the news obituaries are the paid obituaries, or death notices, placed by family members or close friends. Because they are not news stories, these accounts can include whatever information the deceased's loved ones wish to include and they can exclude whatever they like. It's how the family wants the person to be remembered. I have clipped and saved several newspaper paid obits about my family members, and I'm sure I'm not alone.

And even if the subject of a paid obit is not someone near and dear to you, the thumbnail sketches of lives lived can be fascinating and turn into daily required reading.

Santa Rosa Press Democrat columnist Gaye Lebaron is a devoted reader of paid obits, as Lebaron explains in this recent column:

As a habitual reader of obituaries — even those that announce the passing of strangers — I have found that the traditional death notice, wherever it appears, is almost always a window into history.

It’s not always local history. Part of being a dedicated newspaper junkie is reading the obit page in the dailies (and weeklies) we buy wherever our travels take us. If you’re staying a day or two, you can probably discern some east-to-west migration patterns.

These patterns are becoming less distinct as a younger, vastly more mobile population churns in all directions from the home base established by their elders.

You can read the rest of the column here. Ignore the tired old dig at L.A.

-- Claire Noland

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