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Biographical Information   Tags: biography  

Last Updated: Aug 2, 2012 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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Starting Biographical Research

Thousands of sources in the Library and on the web may contain biographical information. This guide provides citations or links to some of the most important of them. By using some recommended search strategies on DELCAT you should be able to ferret out additional sources not listed here.

Determining the appropriate biographical source involves first asking yourself three questions. These are:

  • “Is the person alive or dead?”
  • “Is the person American or not?”
  • “Is the person noted in a particular place or profession, or of a particular ethnicity or gender?”

Depending on your answer to the first question, proceed either to the section in this guide covering biographical sources which are retrospective or general in scope (these include persons of all historical periods, including the present, or those who are dead) or to the section covering sources which are contemporary in scope (these include only living persons). Upon arriving at your jumping-off point, be prepared to ask yourself the second and third questions.


Strategies for DELCAT

The Library of Congress classification system, used in DELCAT, has several headings and subheadings that enable you to identify biographical sources. The most relevant of these is “Biography,” but “Autobiography” or “Autobiographies,” “Bio-Bibliography,” “Interviews,” “Obituaries,” and “Personal Narratives” may also yield results.  Specify one of these words as a subject keyword along with the name of biographee, e.g. search on subject keyword(s) woodrow wilson biography.

Compilations of biographical sketches are often cataloged with “Dictionaries” as a subheading (e.g., United States—Biography—Dictionaries).

Library of Congress does not use the subject heading “oral history.” A bibliographic record for the oral history of a particular person is likely to have several subject headings, neither of which are “oral history” (e.g., David Berger's Bassically Speaking: An Oral History of George Duvidier has the subject headings “Duvidier, George” and “Jazz musicians—United States—Biography”). To retrieve materials on this topic, do a keyword search on the phrase oral history (“words adjacent”) in title or better yet anywhere. The phrase “oral history” might be buried in the notes for a bibliographic record.


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