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GEP Research Basics: Person/Biographical Information

Reference Books

The Reference Department has the following reference books focusing on biographical information:

Biography and Genealogy Master Index  Ref CT2134.B5x

Biography Index  Ref CT213.Z1 B5

Current Biography  Ref  CT100 .C8

Who’s Who in World Politics: from 1860 to the Present Day  Ref D21.3 .P35 1996

Who’s Who in Comedy: Comedians, Comics, and Clowns from Vaudeville to Today’s Stand-ups  Ref PN1583 .S6 1992

The International Who’s Who of Women  Ref CT3202.I58x

Who’s Who of American Women  Ref E747.W65

The International Who’s Who  Ref CT120.I5

Who’s Who: An Annual Biographical Dictionary, with which is Incorporated “Men and Women of the Time”    Ref DA28 .W6

Who’s Who in Finance and Industry  REF HF3023.A2 W5

The Reference Department also has numerous books focusing on biographical information about of specific areas: artists, actors, scientists, writers, etc.  Use SWAN to access these additional reference books and books from the library’s general collection.  Note that books with call numbers beginning with Ref are located in the Reference Collection.

Web Resources — The Web site of the Biography Channel — Includes biographies by category as well as a search feature — Internet Movie Database with biographies of actors — Biographies of women, including search by subject and name.  Links provided to additional Web sites on women in history.

Tips for Finding Biographical Information

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

Online Databases

The following online databases are located on the library's home page .  To locate this list of databases, click on Indexes and Databases.  Then, choose Subject and click on Biography.  Note that several of the databases limit the number of users.

American National Biography — Biographies of deceased persons who influenced American history

Biographies Reference Bank Select — Biographical profiles of current celebrities, authors, historical figures, etc.

Dictionary of Scientific Biography — Biographies of natural scientists and mathematicians

Literature Criticism Online — Information on writers and their works in four areas: children’s literature, nineteenth century, twentieth century, and contemporary

Marquis Who’s Who on the Web — current biographies

Oxford African American Studies Center — biographical and research articles on African American history and culture

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography — Detailed biographical essays and pictures of deceased persons with significant connection to British historyBottom of Form


To find books about a particular person, go to SWAN (located on the library’s Web page), and do a subject search for your topic.  A subject search will result in a list of books focusing on your topic.  To search, type your topic in last-name, first-name order.  Here’s an example:

 Type the SUBJECT you want, then press or click Submit Search