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Readers’ corner

In a continuing effort to explain how things work at The Union, I want to address the issue of obituaries.

Most people don’t know that many large newspapers write obituaries of famous people in advance. These are updated yearly. Then, when someone famous or important in the community dies (which often happens late at night on a weekend for some reason) the “bones” of that person’s obituary are already in hand.

The Orange County Register was the victim of an elaborate hoax in the ’80s, when someone phoned the paper late at night to say Walter Knott (the founder of Knott’s Berry Farm) had died.



The already-written obituary was swiftly placed on page 1 for the next day. A huge headline screamed “Walter Knott dies at home.” Except he hadn’t. The editors learned they were duped. Undelivered papers were trashed and page 1 was reprinted and delivered late.

The lesson there was to always verify a death with a mortuary – and that is something The Union does.




An obituary is one of the most important stories we write in The Union. It is the last story that will be written on that person, and it is likely to end up in Bibles and family scrapbooks. We take this mission very seriously.

We are one of the rare papers that prints free obituaries. Many papers charge hundreds of dollars – usually by the inch. Our free obituaries can be edited for length and use a picture of the person’s face.

But we also print paid obituaries. The difference is a paid obituary looks like an advertisement, is often very long and may contain multiple pictures.

We realize that a person calling or coming into The Union to place an obituary is usually grieving and we make every attempt to make the process as smooth as possible.

It is probably a good idea, if you have elderly friends or relatives, to gather family information while the person is still living. Dealing with a death in the family is difficult enough without having to call eight people to find out great-grandma’s first name or cousin Suzie’s husband’s name.

When will the obituary run? We take special note of local services and memorials and those obituaries move to the front of the line. In every case, we try to get each one in the paper as soon as possible.

Why do we run obituaries of people who don’t live here? There is a Nevada County connection. Either they used to live here, or their relatives live here.

Newpapers are the recorded history of our lives. Obituaries play a huge part in that, and will be read hundreds of years from now by historians or researchers seeking information on families of this era.

Janet Lee is the newsroom coordinator for obituaries. She can be reached by e-mail at janetl@theunion.com, by phone at 477-4203 or by fax at 477-4292.

Classified sales consultant Debbi Sutton, who handles paid obituaries, has a book of examples customers can look through. She can be reached at 477-4225.

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Dixie Redfearn can be reached at 477-4238 or by e-mail at dixier@theunion.com, or by fax at 477-4292.


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