Finding Biographical Information
What is a Biography?
A biography is an account of the special and important events in a person's life. It should not be confused with the similar sounding term bibliography, which is a listing of books and articles on a topic. Biographies may be brief and cover only basic information about a person's life such as dates of birth and death, education and vocation. A biography may also be very detailed, and cover the cultural background, outstanding accomplishments, and historical significance of an individual.
Biographical sources cover both living and deceased persons, notable persons in particular countries, persons in specific occupations, celebrities, and civil and government leaders. It is helpful when searching for biographical information to know:
•Person's full name and correct spelling (for example: Smith, Smyth or Smythe)
•Date of birth
•Occupation or profession
•Date of death (when applicable)
•Nationality or country of residence
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1. If you need basic facts about a person, e.g., "When was Napoleon born?", check general encyclopedias, such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Encyclopedia Americana. You might also want to check some foreign language encyclopedias, such as Grand Larousse (French) or Brockhaus Enzyklopädie (German).
2. If you are unable to find simple biographical information in general encyclopedias, or you need more information than provided, check one of the specialized biographical reference books listed on thispage.
3. If you cannot find the person you are looking for, or cannot get enough information from a biographical reference book, check one of the biographical master indexes listed below. These guide you to books, periodical articles or other reference sources.
4. For highly detailed information, search the Library Catalog for books on the person. Perform a subject search by typing the person's last name followed by their first name, e.g., Whitman, Walt. Execute the search and look for the subheading --Biography. The complete heading in this example is: Whitman, Walt, 1819-1892 -- Biography. You can also use the Catalog to search for the titles of books and periodicals found in the biographical master indexes.
5. It is important to remember that biographical information may not be available for all individuals. In these cases, information about an author can sometimes be found by checking the preface or introduction of an author's work for scholarly background and academic achievements. Perform an author search in the Library Catalog by typing in the last name followed by the first name.
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Biographical Reference Books & Databases
This guide does not present a comprehensive list of titles in the Reference Collection. These titles were selected to provide broad, well balanced coverage within their categories. Consult a reference librarian for assistance in locating other titles, particularly those with very specific coverage, if the ones listed do not meet your needs.
Biographical Master Indexes
The following is a selected list of titles that provide broad coverage. Other master indexes are available covering a variety of specific topics. Consult a reference librarian for assistance in locating other titles, if the ones listed below do not meet your needs.
Biography and Genealogy Master Index
CT213 .B51 International in scope. Identifies entries in over 300 biographical dictionaries. Arranged alphabetically. Does refer to other master indexes, too, such as Biography Index below. Multi-volume set begun in 1981 and supplemented to the present.
Biography Index, 1946-1997
CT100 .B56 A multi-volume set covering the period and is arranged alphabetically. Identifies entries in periodicals and books. Covers the U.S. unless otherwise indicated. Includes obituaries.
New York Times Index, 1851-2000
AI21 .N45 Includes obituaries (listed under Deaths). Salmon Library has a complete run of the New York Times newspaper from 1918 - Feb. 2001 on microfilm. See also the New York Times Obituaries Index (CT213 .N47 and CT213 .N471)
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Biography Reference Bank (online)
Contains biographical information on approximately half a million people, from antiquity to the present, along with thousands of images. It contains the full text of the articles from more than 100 volumes of biographical reference books published by H. W. Wilson, including all the articles from all volumes of Current Biography, the World Author Series, Nobel Prize Winners, World Artists, World Film Directors, American Reformers, and numerous biographical books on musicians and composers throughout history.
Current Biography 1940-
CT 100 .C8 - International in scope. Prominent individuals in their fields. Articles approximately 2500 words, and include portraits and references. Recent obituaries included. Published monthly with annual cumulations in the Current Biography Yearbook (CT 100 .C8). Monthly issues indexed alphabetically; yearbooks indexed by occupation and include alphabetic indexing for current and previous years.
International Who's Who
CT 120 .I5 - Short entries with basic information on approximately 20,000 prominent living people. Coverage began in 1935. Also lists reigning royal families by country. Arranged alphabetically. See also Who's who in the World (CT120 .W5)
McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of World Biography
CT 103 .M27 - Multi-volume set featuring 5,000 deceased people significant to social and cultural history. Articles are one to two pages in length, include portraits, illustrations and references. The last volume serves as subject index, with cross-references. Updated by the five volume Encyclopedia of World Biography: 20th Century Supplement (CT 103 .M27), which includes a mix of living and deceased.
Merriam Webster's Biographical Dictionary
CT 103 .M47 - International in scope. Provides short entries with basic information on 30,000 important deceased people. Cross-references included. Arranged alphabetically.
Webster's American Biographies
E176 .V36 - Provide a short article and basic information about the person in question.
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Notable Black American Men / Notable Black American Women
E 185.96 .N68 - Two to three page articles on 501 historical and contemporary men & women. Articles include references and portraits. Arranged alphabetically and indexed by subject. Also provides a table of contents organized by occupation..
Africian-American History & Culture an online encyclopedia that covers the breadth of African American history and culture. Includes timelines, biographies, historical documents, maps and charts.
African American History & Culture (online)
An online encyclopedia that covers the breadth of African American history and culture. Includes timelines, biographies, historical documents, maps and charts.
Dictionary of American Negro Biography
E185.96 .D53 1982
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Notable American Women, 1607-1950
E176 .N57 - Scholarly biographical essays on 1,359 noteworthy women, who died prior to 1951. Articles average one to two pages. The third vol. includes an occupational index for the set. Updated through 1975 by Notable American Women: The Modern Period (E 176 .N571), which adds 442 entries.
Native American Women: A Biographical Dictionary
E 98.W8 .B38 1993 - Provides 400-600 word articles on U.S. and Canadian women born between 1595 and 1960. Selected portraits included. Arranged alphabetically, and indexed by subject. Also includes appendixes that list entries by area of specialization, decade of birth, place of birth, and tribal affiliation
Notable Black American Women
E 185.96 .N68 1992 - Two-three page articles on 501 historical & contemporary women. Articles include references. Arranged alphabetically, indexed by subject. Provides a table of contents organized by occupation.
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American National Biography (online)
A premier biographical work on people from all eras who have influenced and shaped American history and culture. You’ll find profiles of more than 18,000 men and women from all walks of American life, from the well-known to the infamous to the obscure.
Dictionary of American Biography (U.S.)
E 176 .D561 - Scholarly biographical essays on approximately 15,000 prominent, influential Americans, primarily men, who died prior to 1936. Articles average one to two pages, and include references. Ten supplements (E176 .D564 Suppl.) update the original through 1980 and add approx. 4,000 entries. The Comprehensive Index (E 176 .D564) provides subject, contributor, birthplace, school and college.
Dictionary of Canadian Biography
F 1005 .D49 - Scholarly articles on 7,168 noteworthy people born between 1000 and 1910. Articles are one to two pages in length and include references. Multi-volume set. Volumes one through 12 have a cumulative alphabetical index, and volume 13 is indexed by occupation, geography and alphabetically by name.
Dictionary of National Biography (British)
DA 28 .D49 - Scholarly articles on approximately 35,000 influential deceased Britons. Covers the earliest times through 1901. Articles average one to two pages, and include references. Multi-volume set. Each issue is indexed alphabetically by name. Supplements (DA 28 .D48 Reference ) update through 1990.
Dicti`onnaire de Biographie Francaise (French)
DC36 .D53 - Articles written in French on outstanding deceased people from earliest times. Articles are, on average, shorter than those in the other national biographies above, and include extensive references. Multi-volume set. Arranged alphabetically from A through Gueroult.
Who's Who (British)
DA 28 .W6 - Brief entries with basic information on 30,000 eminent contemporary people from the United Kingdom, British Commonwealth and some foreign countries. Coverage at Salmon Library goes back to 1926, with some interruptions. Includes a special section on the royal family. Addresses provided. Also provides an obituary list of entrants who died during the previous year. Arranged alphabetically.
Who's Who in America, 1899-
E663 .W56 - Brief entries with basic info. on 100,000 prominent contemporary people. Entries are predominantly Americans, but other nationals who have a significant impact on the U.S. are included. Addresses included.. Arranged alphabetically, last volume serves as a geographic & occupational index.
Who Was Who (British)
DA 28 .W651 - Brief entries with basic information on influential deceased Britons originally listed in Who's Who. Coverage is from 1897 to 1990. Multi-volume set, with each issue covering a time period and listing entries alphabetically. There is a cumulative alphabetical index volume to the set.
Who Was Who in America
E663 .W565 - Brief entries with basic information on important deceased Americans originally listed in Who's Who in America . A special Historical Volume covers 1607-1896. Each issue covering a time period and listing entries alphabetically. There is a cumulative alphabetical index volume to the set.
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Contemporary Authors (online & print)
PN771 .C621 - Encompasses 100,000 current writers from 1962 to present, with some pre-1960's "greats". Covers all literary genres. Includes Contemporary Author, First Revision, Contemporary Authors, Permanent Series, Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series. See also the online Gale Literary Index.
PR736 .C6 - Covers over 300 dramatists writing in English. Articles average one to two pages and include a list of publications by type and references. Addresses provided. Arranged alphabetically. Includes supplements providing brief info. on screenwriters, radio & television writers and musical librettists.
PR737 .V5 - Approximately 700 novelists writing in English. Articles average one to two pages and include a list of publications by type and references. Addresses provided. Arranged alphabetically. Provides a list of entrants and is indexed by nationality and title.
PR603 .C6 - Describes 779 poets writing in English. Articles average one to two pages and include a list of publications by type and references. Addresses provided. Arranged alphabetically. Provides a list of entrants and is indexed by nationality and title.
Dictionary of Literary Biography (online & print)
PN771 .C624 - This large, ever-expanding reference set provides lengthy critical essays and bibliographies on the lives and works of writers. See also the Gale Literary Index.
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Business & Economics
African American Business Leaders: A Biographical Dictionary
HC 102.5 .A2 I52 1994 - Describes 123 people. Emphasis on the period 1880 to World War Two. Articles are several pages long and include references. Some articles have multiple entries. Arranged alphabetically and indexed by subject. Includes appendixes that list leaders by place of birth, place of business and type of business. An appendix of prominent women is also included.
Biographical Dictionary of American Business Leaders HC102.5.A2 I53 1983 - Covers 1,159 people from earliest times to present, with a heavy emphasis on the pre-World War Two era.. Arranged alphabetically. Last volume provides an alphabetical index and appendixes that list leaders by industry, company, birthplace place of business activity, religion, ethnicity, year of birth.
Biographical Dictionary of American Labor
HD8073.A1 B56 1984 - Half-page articles on 730 men and women from the 1800 and 1900s. References included. Arranged alphabetically and indexed by subject. Includes appendixes that list people by union affiliation, religion, place of birth, formal education and political preference.
Standard & Poor's Register of Corporations, Directors, & Execs. (online & print)
HG4057 .A4 - Volume two provides position & company, business & residence addresses, year & place of birth, etc. & email address when available for 71,000 top directors and executives. Vol. 3 provides an index for recently added individuals and an obituary list for recently deceased people.
Who's Who in Economics
HB76 .W46 1983 - International in scope. Provides brief information on approximately 1,300 living and deceased people. Arranged alphabetically and indexed by field of interest, nationality and place of birth
Who's Who in Finance & Industry
HF 3023 .A2 W51 - International in scope. Brief entries on 24,500 prominent people in business or business-related fields. Addresses included. Arranged alphabetically.
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Directory of American Scholars
LA 2311 .C32 - Brief entries with basic information on U.S. and Canadian educators in the humanities and social sciences. Publication, professional affiliation and research interests are included. Each volume covers a broad academic field (history; philosophy, religion and law; foreign languages; and English, etc.)
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Dictionary of Contemporary American Artists
N6536 .C8 - Brief entries for more than 900 artists indicate where and with whom artist studied, awards, exhibitions and group shows, collections in which their works are found; bibliographical references.
Who's Who in American Art
N6536 .W5 - Includes painters, sculptors, graphic artists, craftsmen, historians, critics, editors, museum personnel, educators, lecturers, librarians, and dealers from the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Geographic index, professional classifications index, and necrology follow biographical description.
International Dictionary of Art and Artists
N7425 .I67 - Arranged in 2 volumes. The first contains signed entries about artists in chronological order; the second contains alphabetical entries. The alphabetical entries give biographical details, indicate where works are found, list a bibliography of publications about artist, and include a signed critical essay
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Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians
ML105 .B16 1992 - International in scope. Brief articles providing basic information on 13,000 historical and contemporary people. Articles include a list of works and references. Arranged alphabetically.
Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music
ML102 .P66 G84 1995 - International in scope. Covers living and deceased people (and groups) in all genres of popular music. Articles range from 150-3,000 words and include a list of works. Multi-volume set. Arranged alphabetically. The last volume contains references listed by artist and a subject index to the set..
International Who's Who in Music
ML106.G7 W4 - Brief articles providing basic information on 8,000. Concentrates on the classical and light classical fields. Arranged alphabetically. Addresses includes. (1985)
The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians
ML100 .N48 - International in scope. Entries range from a paragraph to several pages depending on the person (e.g., J.S. Bach). References and a list of works included. Multi-volume set arranged alphabetically. Also includes non-biographical information. (1980)
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Physical & Social Sciences
American Men and Women of Science
Q141 .A473 - Brief entries with basic information on 119,618 U.S. and Canadian scientists in natural science, agriculture, medicine, mathematics engineering, etc. Field of science, current position and addresses included. Arranged alphabetically with the final volume serving as an index by scientific discipline.
Dictionary of Scientific Biography
Q141 .D5 - International in scope. Scholarly articles ranging from one to several pages on historical and contemporary people. References included. Covers the natural and physical sciences, engineering and the social sciences (history, philosophy and dissemination of knowledge), but excludes medicine. Arranged alphabetically. Volumes 16 and 18 serve as a subject and field of science index.
International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (Biographical Supplement)
H40.A2 I5 v. 18 - International in scope. Scholarly three to five page articles on 200 prominent living and deceased social scientists of the twentieth century born prior to 1908. References included. Fourteen social sciences are represented, including history, which is considered a humanities discipline by some. Arranged alphabetically, with alphabetical and field of study lists preceding the biographies.
Who's Who in Science and Engineering
Q141 .W571 - International in scope. Brief entries with basic information on 31,000 living scientists, doctors and engineers. Addresses included. Arranged alphabetically and indexed by country and profession.
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Politicians & Leaders
Columbia Dictionary of Political Biography
D108 .C65 1991 - International in scope. Brief entries with basic information on current leaders (through 1990). Arranged alphabetically and indexed by country.
Biographical Directory of U.S Congress
JK1010 .A5 1989 - Detailed biography on every member in Congress from 1789-1989.
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12-Jan-2006 Last Revision