Biographical Sources

Faces of several men and women smiling.

Biographical reference sources provide information about people who are or were well-known:  their birth and death dates and descriptions of their lives and accomplishments.  There are two basic types of sources:  sketches or essays containing biographical information; and indexes which refer the user to other biographical materials.

Merriam-Webster's Biographical Dictionary.  Merriam-Webster, 1995.
This desk-sized dictionary provides essential information about important people in all professions, from around the world and throughout history:  birth and death dates, nationality, pronunciation of name, and primary accomplishments.  It is valuable for checking on lesser-known persons.  If you can afford only a single biographical reference for your collection, purchase this one.

Who's Who ....  Marquis' Who's Who.
This publisher produces an entire family of biographical directories; all but Who Was Who in America contain brief records on national and international contemporary leaders from all fields of endeavor.  Birth dates, family names, educational and career highlights, and current contact information are included in each entry.  The cost will be a problem for smaller libraries; however, these titles are now available, by subscription, on the Web at

Current Biography.  H. W. Wilson Company. 
This is an excellent source for accurate, up-to-date biographies of the men and women who make today's headlines and tomorrow's history.  Published eleven times a year, each issue includes 18 to 20 profiles of newsworthy people, plus obituaries of those profiled in previous issues.  For an extra charge you may purchase a cumulation of all eleven issues at the end of each year.

Contemporary Authors.  Gale.
Something About the Author.  Gale.
Users will find biographical information on more than 100,000 modern novelists, poets, playwrights, nonfiction writers, journalists and scriptwriters in the Contemporary Authors series.  Something About the Author includes information about an additional 10,000+ children's authors and illustrators.  Entries typically include personal information, addresses, career history, writings, work in progress, biographical/critical sources and authors' comments and/or informative essays about their lives and work.  The Contemporary Authors series is available in print and by subscription on the Web at

American National Biography.  24 volumes.  Oxford University Press, 1999.
Dictionary of American Biography.  20 volumes + index.  Scribner's, 1989.
These are the two most comprehensive biographical encyclopedias for American history.  Both cover men and women who have made significant contributions to American life from the time of the earliest European explorations up to the very recent past.  The Dictionary of American Biography contains almost 20,000 entries, while the American National Biography lists about 17,500. 

Concise Dictionary of American Biography.  5th ed.  2 volumes.  Scribner's, 1997. 
This set contains all entries from the base set in an abridged form.

PolySearch - BIOGRAPHIES.  Peter Jacso, creator/Webmaster.
Peter Jacso has designed PolySearch, a new type of meta-search engine which allows the patron to run simple searches across several selected ready reference databases at once.  This PolySearch - BIOGRAPHIES site provides access to biographical information about famous and infamous historical figures, politicians, scientists, authors, artists and athletes.  Since the biographical Web sites were selected by Jacso, an award-winning reference librarian, they can be relied upon for reasonably accurate information.  You will find this free site at

Biography Index.  H. W. Wilson Company.
This source indexes biographical articles from more than 3,000 periodicals, current books of individual and collective biography, and biographical material in otherwise non-biographical books.  In addition to biographies and autobiographies, there are citations to interviews, obituaries, collections of letters, juvenile literature, and bibliographies.  Indexing covers people from antiquity to the present.

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