A search for biographical information is usually for a person who has achieved a measure of distinction during his or her lifetime. However, most people leave little recorded information, except perhaps an obituary, a will, a few letters and photographs, personal financial records, and sometimes a diary, journal, etc. Basic information about very well-known individuals can often be found by consulting a general encyclopedia, such as the Encyclopedia Britannica. Before you start a search, it helps to know some basic facts about the person.
- What is the correct spelling of the individual's full name?
- Does the person use a middle name or initials, instead of the first name?
- For women, is there both a married name and a maiden name?
- For writers, is there a pen name or pseudonym?
- For performers, is there a stage name?
- Is the person known by a nickname or alias?
- Is the person alive or dead?
- Birth and death dates may be helpful in the case of individuals whose first and last names are common (e.g., James Smith).
- What is the person's nationality or place of residence?
- What is the person's profession, occupation, or position?
- Titles of works published or performed?
- Does the person have a famous relative or spouse?
- Any memberships in associations or organizations?
- Other connections with established institutions?
Sources for Biographical Information include:
Primary Sources: An information source is considered primary if it is a work written, created, or generated by the person whose life is the subject of the search. Primary sources include:
- Letters, notes, and other messages written by or to the person during his/her lifetime
- Memoranda, directives, and reports written by the person, usually in a professional or occupational capacity
- Diaries, journals, memoirs, commonplace books, and other autobiographical materials written by the person
- Photographs or moving pictures taken of the person during his or her lifetime
- Creative works written, composed, or performed by the person during his or her lifetime
- Interviews and oral histories recorded during the person's lifetime
- Inscriptions, notes, and marginalia written in books and on other documents
- Legal and administrative records pertaining to the person's life
- Newspaper reports of events that occurred in the person's life and during the time in which he or she lived
- Diaries and memoirs written by those who knew the person
Secondary Sources:An information source is considered secondary if it is a work written by others about the person's life and times or about his/her works. Secondary sources include:
- Obituaries written and published at the time of death
- Essays published in biographical and general reference works
- Articles about the person's life published in periodicals (newspapers, magazines, and journals)
- Documentary films and videorecordings about the person's life
- Book-length biographies and histories
- Reviews and criticism of the person's creative works
- Bibliographies of sources about the person's life and works