How to Write a Simple Family History Story About Your Ancestor's Death


Family History Writing Examples: How to write a simple death story

When adding names to a family tree, three or four facts specifically identify an ancestor: their name, birth, marriage (if applicable), and death. Each of these facts are a great starting point for a narrative about your ancestor, as usually, you have records that support each of these events.


Previously, I walked you through writing a simple birth story and marriage story for my Great-Grandmother, Lura Smith Long. This post applies the same process to writing a simple death story.

Lura Smith Long's Grave Marker


Step One: Make a Simple Sentence


The process is so easy. We’ll start by making a simple sentence then expand the story using additional details from supporting records. Once again, we’ll look at the profile for Lura on Ancestry.com. The snapshot highlights those all-important vital facts and will help craft the first simple sentence for Lura’s death story.

Lura (Smith) Long died on 7 May 1934 in Columbus, Franklin County, Ohio.

That wasn’t so hard, and it’s not meant to be. The first step is the hardest to gear up for when beginning a writing project. If it’s so painless a 12-year-old can do it, then the ‘it’s too hard’ excuse quickly vanishes. The “Maybe Someday” excuse for not writing a narrative can also transform into “Maybe Today.”


Look how easy it was to write the first sentence. 11 words are a good start.


Step Two: Expand the Story to Include Facts From Death Records


What information do I have that supports the fact on Lura’s profile?

If you guessed her death certificate, you would be right! Good job.

Lura’s death certificate can quickly and easily expand that first sentence if you know what information is most useful for detailing this event.


Lura Smith Long Death Certificate to write a family history story

If I had not previously written a story about Lura being born, I would include information about her parents. If I had not previously written about her marriage to Harry Long, I would include his name as well. Since I have written those two stories, I do not need to include those details in this story. So what else can I use for the story?


Some facts look useful right away. Where she lived and how old was she when she died are great facts to add. When and where she was buried could eventually become a separate paragraph if I have enough information. For now, this tidbit will be part of the next draft of the story. How about the cause of death and how long she suffered from this problem? All of these facts are new to her overall story and appear on this one document. I will reorganize the original sentence for better readability.


On 4 May 1934, Lura was admitted to Mt. Caramel Hospital, just two months after her 50th birthday. Apparently, she had trouble with a uterus fibroid and a hysterectomy was performed on May 5th. During the recovery process, she had a cerebral embolism and died from it on May 7th. Her physician was Joseph M Dunn, M.D. Lura had been a housewife living at 295 Stewart Avenue. Lura was buried in Green Lawn Cemetery on 9 May 1934.

Wowzers! Did I miss anything?


Yes. I did drop the place of death. From the time Lura married until the end of her life, she lived in Columbus, Ohio. As such, I have left the place of death out of this particular story. Had her place of death differed from her place of residence, I would have included the full death location. Perhaps when I finish the whole narrative, I might insert the city information once again to assist my reader in knowing where Mt. Caramel Hospital is located. For now, I left it off.



I do not know how much involvement Dr. Dunn had in Lura’s case other than signing off on her death record. I do not want to presume he did the surgery or that he was there the moment she died. The sentence is unimpressive stylistically, yet I would rather be accurate than misleading.


Regardless of what I intentionally left out or cannot determine, my simple story expanded from one sentence to five and from 11 words to 78 using one record.


Step Three: Expand the Story to Discuss Survivors


Obituaries are the next source of information about the death of an ancestor. Many wonderful tidbits can be found, such as participation in churches and community organizations, and occupations to name a few.


The best part of a well-crafted obituary is the list of relatives preceding and surviving the ancestor.


If you are fortunate enough to have a relative who had an obituary published, and you have a copy, use it now to expand the story. If you haven’t discovered an obituary or one was never published (i.e., my family did not publish an obituary for my mother), you can create many related facts yourself.


Using family group sheets, I determined that Lura would have been living with her husband Harry and her two daughters at the time of her death. Marguerite would have been 18 at this time and may have been finishing high school or working. I can not determine this information. Louise would have been 13 and attending school.

Lura had no other children, and the girls were unmarried, so the list of immediate survivors ends here, as her parents and brother preceded her in death. Later, I will add her brother and parents' deaths to her overall narrative, so I will not add those names at this time.

On 4 May 1934, Lura was admitted to Mt. Caramel Hospital, just two months after her 50th birthday. Apparently, she had trouble with a uterus fibroid and a hysterectomy was performed on May 5th. During the recovery process, she had a cerebral embolism and died from it on May 7th. Her physician was Joseph M Dunn, M.D. Lura had been a housewife living at 295 Stewart Avenue with 50 year-old Harry, 18 year-old Marguerite, and 13 year-old Louise.
Lura was buried in Green Lawn Cemetery on 9 May 1934.

If your relative had surviving parents, siblings, and grandchildren, your list would be longer than mine. If they had fewer survivors, your list could be shorter. Feel free to mention step-children and grandchildren as well. Not every family has the ‘perfect’ chart structure.


I can not often determine the strength of a relationship when remarriages occur, so unless I know a child lived with a particular ‘step-mother’ or ‘step-father’ for a period of time, then I don’t include it. However, it’s your narrative and your relative. You get to decide.


Before I wrote this bit, I mentioned that I wouldn’t include her parents' and brother's death that preceded Lura’s. However, while crafting this paragraph, I noticed that Lura’s death occurred 11 months after her father’s. Her father lived in her home for several years, and Lura’s daughters had many memories of him. To better understand the loss Harry and the daughters experienced, I need to include Grandpa Smith’s death as well.

On 4 May 1934, Lura was admitted to Mt. Caramel Hospital, just two months after her 50th birthday. Apparently, she had trouble with a uterus fibroid and a hysterectomy was performed on May 5th. During the recovery process, she had a cerebral embolism and died from it on May 7th. Her physician was Joseph M Dunn, M.D.
The death of the beloved Lura took place 11 months after the passing of her father Andrew Smith who had lived in her home at 295 Stewart Avenue for a number of years. Lura would leave behind 50 year-old Harry, 18 year-old Marguerite, and 13 year-old Louise to grieve her loss, along with Grandpa Smith’s.
Lura was buried in Green Lawn Cemetery on 9 May 1934.

Step Four: Expand the Story With Information about Cause of Death


How often have you wondered exactly what the cause of death terminology means? Probably more often than you care to admit if you’re not well versed in medical terminology. Do a Google search or ask a knowledgeable medical friend, to help you understand what disease or ailment afflicted your ancestor.


On 4 May 1934, Lura was admitted to Mt. Caramel Hospital, just two months after her 50th birthday. Apparently, she had trouble with a uterus fibroid and a hysterectomy was performed on May 5th. During the recovery process, she had a cerebral embolism and died from it on May 7th. Cerebral embolism happens when a clot is carried by the bloodstream until it lodges in an artery leading to or in the brain, blocking the flow of blood. In layman’s terms, she suffered a stroke during the recovery from surgery and died from it. Her physician was Joseph M Dunn, M.D.
The death of the beloved Lura took place 11 months after the passing of her father Andrew Smith who had lived in her home at 295 Stewart Avenue for a number of years. Lura would leave behind 50 year-old Harry, 18 year-old Marguerite, and 13 year-old Louise to grieve her loss, along with Grandpa Smith.
Lura was buried in Green Lawn Cemetery on 9 May 1934.

One medical term didn’t make sense to me (cerebral embolism), and I was afraid it would not make sense to others. I discovered a basic definition and then a ‘layman’s translation by doing a Google search.’ Now, we can picture more clearly what caused the death of this rather young woman. Perhaps I should also detail what a uterus fibroid.

Step Five: Expand the Story With Comparison to Parental Death Ages

Many people, your eventual readers, are interested in the longevity of their ancestors. Take a moment to record how long your ancestor’s parents lived and compare that with your ancestor. Did they live longer, shorter, or about the same? You might discover a pattern or other interesting story by doing this step.


On 4 May 1934, Lura was admitted to Mt. Caramel Hospital, just two months after her 50th birthday. Apparently, she had trouble with a uterus fibroid and a hysterectomy was performed on May 5th. During the recovery process, she had a cerebral embolism and died from it on May 7th. Cerebral embolism happens when a clot is carried by the bloodstream until it lodges in an artery leading to or in the brain, blocking the flow of blood. In layman’s terms, she suffered a stroke during the recovery from surgery and died from it. Her physician was Joseph M Dunn, M.D.
The death of the beloved Lura took place 11 months after the passing of her father Andrew Smith who had lived in her home at 295 Stewart Avenue for a number of years. Lura would leave behind 50 year-old Harry, 18 year-old Marguerite, and 13 year-old Louise to grieve her loss, along with Grandpa Smith. Interestingly, Lura’s mother died at the age of 26 and her father at the age of 77. At the age of 50, Lura’s lived longer that her mother but not nearly as long as her father.
Lura was buried in Green Lawn Cemetery on 9 May 1934

You could go a step further and include the cause of death for an ancestor’s parents and see if a medical condition is hereditary. I can not read Andrew’s or Emma’s cause of death, so I excluded that information at this time.

Step Six: Expand the Story With Burial Information


This step may or may not be important to you, but sometimes where a person is buried has an interesting story. I have one set of Grandparents who were not buried in the same cemetery. The wife does not have a stone (or it was damaged and removed), and the husband’s stone is one of two with no inscription. Lura was buried on the Smith family plot in Green Lawn Cemetery. I can make mention of the others buried in the same location.

On 4 May 1934, Lura was admitted to Mt. Caramel Hospital, just two months after her 50th birthday. Apparently, she had trouble with a uterus fibroid and a hysterectomy was performed on May 5th. During the recovery process, she had a cerebral embolism and died from it on May 7th. Cerebral embolism happens when a clot is carried by the bloodstream until it lodges in an artery leading to or in the brain, blocking the flow of blood. In layman’s terms, she suffered a stroke during the recovery from surgery and died from it. Her physician was Joseph M Dunn, M.D.
The death of the beloved Lura took place 11 months after the passing of her father Andrew Smith who had lived in her home at 295 Stewart Avenue for a number of years. Lura would leave behind 50 year-old Harry, 18 year-old Marguerite, and 13 year-old Louise to grieve her loss, along with Grandpa Smith. Interestingly, Lura’s mother died at the age of 26 and her father at the age of 77. At the age of 50, Lura’s lived longer that her mother but not nearly as long as her father.
Lura was buried in Green Lawn Cemetery on 9 May 1934 on the Smith Family Plot (Lot 43, Section 35) that is near the road with two steps leading into the section. One the face of one step is the Smith family name. Beside those steps in a white stone for Lura’s little brother earl. A large monument bears the name of Mary E Smith, Lura’s step-grandmother. There is no stone for her grandfather Philip who purchased the original plot. Also buried on the site is Lura’s father Andrew and mother Emma Ward. (Her step-mother would die after Lura but she was apparently in an asylum at the time of Lura’s death). Her step-aunt Louella (Smith) Tooill’s unnamed infant son was also buried on this plot. Finally, her uncle Orlando Smith and his wife Clara were buried on the plot as well.

Perhaps this story seems too long, and you wouldn’t want to add all the ‘who’s buried there’ information in your ancestor’s narrative. My family members keep asking, “Who does the little white stone belong to?” “Who is Mary E Smith?” and “Who are Orlando and Clara?” after visiting the Smith gravesite. The infant Tooill infant didn’t have a stone, but family members have wondered about his listing on the plot information. I included the information so that those most familiar with Lura and her daughters will know how she relates to the others on that cemetery section.


Final Tally: 3 Paragraphs and 335 words provide the information about when Lura Long died and where she was buried.


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5 Steps to Quickly Write About Your Ancestors



Finding a group sheet, death record, plot information, and information on Google enabled me to write one more section for my ancestor’s Narrative.

If you have written your simple birth, marriage, and death story for an ancestor, your “Maybe Someday” has now become “Done Day” or “In Progress Day.”


You can write your family’s history with what you already have, and you should. If you don’t, your research is more likely to be tossed out with the trash than if you had taken time to follow these simple steps.


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