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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 for DELCAT Discovery, 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 Subject Headings, used in DELCAT Discovery, has several terms that enable you to identify biographical sources. The most relevant of these are: biography, autobiography, autobiographies, bio-bibliography, interviews, obituaries, and personal narratives.  Specify one of these words as a subject keyword along with the name of biographee, e.g. su:woodrow wilson biography.

Compilations of biographical sketches are often called "dictionaries”  (e.g., United States—Biography—Dictionaries).

Library of Congress does not use the subject heading “oral history,”  but that phrase may be included as part of a book's title.

Subject Librarian

Kaitlyn Tanis's picture
Kaitlyn Tanis
History and Social Sciences Librarian
Reference & Instructional Services

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