Find Biographical Information

This is a guide to selected print and online biographical resources. While basic resources are included, there are many others that cannot be covered here because of length. For assistance in using these resources, or to find additional information, contact a Reference Librarian.

Biographies are available in a variety of lengths from books to short paragraphs. Before beginning a search for a biography it is helpful to have some basic information such as: correct spelling of the name, time period during which the person was active, whether the person is living or deceased and identifying features such as profession, discoveries or minority group status.

Book-Length Biographies

Long and in-depth analyses of a person's life are usually found in books. Search the library online catalog with the person's name as a subject to find biographies and autobiographies, OR to search for an occupation, a time period, a geographical area, etc., add the word biography to the search.


  • king, martin luther, jr.
  • authors, american 19th century biography
  • physicists biography
  • united states biography

Directories: Brief Information

    • Search over 25,000 biographies online.
  • Cambridge Biographical Dictionary -- REFERENCE CT103.C4 1990
    • Particularly good for European personalities. Gives birth/death dates, nationality, occupation, and a brief biographical sketch.
  • Infoplease: Biography
    • Search over 30,000 biographies online from the Information Please Almanac and Columbia Encyclopedia (6th ed.).
  • International Who's Who -- REFERENCE CT120.I5 1968
  • Who's Who in America -- RERERENCE CT210.W63 1910
  • Who Was Who in America -- REFERRENCE CT210.W641

Dictionaries and Encyclopedias: In-Depth Information

  • American National Biography -- Reference CT213.A68 1999
    • A project to update the Dictionary of American Biography below, the ANB includes biographical information on a broad range of individuals important to United States history who died before 1996.
  • Current Biography -- REFERENCE CT100.C8
    • Lengthy articles about prominent individuals from national and international affairs, the sciences, the arts, sports, business, and industry. Includes photographs and index of individuals by profession and occupation. Coverage is from 1940 to the present.
  • Dictionary of American Biography -- REFERENCE CT213.D55
    • The best place to look for major (deceased) historical figures in America, it contains 500-1600 word articles with bibliographies by scholars. The DAB consists of a twenty volume section plus supplements bringing coverage to 1980. Continued by American National Biography above and Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives below.
  • Dictionary of National Biography -- REFERENCE CT773.D47
    • The DNB has for over 100 years been the definitive source of reference biographical information about persons who have had a significant impact on British history. Revised and updated by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography below.
  • Encyclopedia Britannica full text
    • Online version of the print Britannica. Includes articles on thousands of individuals.
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography -- REFERENCE CT773.O95 2004
    • A major update of the Dictionary of National Biography above, the Oxford DNB contains 55,000 biographies, which describe the lives of people who shaped the history of the British Isles and beyond. Includes more than 10,000 illustrations.
  • Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives -- REFERENCE CT213.D551 1998
    • Updates, in five-year supplementary volumes, the Dictionary of American Biography above, the standard American biographical source for (deceased) historical figures.
  • Scribner's Encyclopedia of American Lives: Sports Figures -- REFERENCE GV697.A1S42 2002

Electronic Databases

  • Historical New York Times full text
    • To find obituaries, select More Search Options and Document Type: Obituary
  • Lexis Nexis Academic full text
    • In the Research People box on the main search page, enter the person's last name and then select Biographical Reference in the drop-down box to find obituaries and other articles about politicians, business executives, and other people in the news.
  • Oxford Reference Online full text
    • Full-text of over 100 dictionaries, general reference, language reference, and subject reference works from Oxford University Press.

Specialized Directories

African Americans

  • African-American Biographies -- REFERENCE E185.96.H38 1992
  • International Directory of Black Composers -- REFERENCE ML105.I5 1999
  • Notable Black American Men -- REFERENCE E185.86.N68 1999
  • Notable Black American Women -- REFERENCE E185.96.N68
  • St. James Guide to Black Artists -- REFERENCE N40.S78 1997


  • Contemporary Artists -- REFERENCE N6490.C6567 2001
  • Dictionary of Contemporary Women Artists -- REFERENCE N8354.D53 1997
  • Grove Art Online (now Oxford Art Online) full text
  • International Dictionary of Art and Artists: Artists -- REFERENCE N40.I57 1990
  • St. James Guide to Black Artists -- REFERENCE N40.S78 1997


  • European Historical Biography -- REFERENCE CT759.R47 1992
  • Great Lives From History: Ancient and Medieval -- REFERENCE CT113.G74 1988
  • Great Lives From History: Renaissance to 1900 -- REFERENCE CT104.G68 1989


  • Contemporary Dramatists -- REFERENCE PR106.V5 1988
  • Contemporary Novelists -- REFERENCE PR883.C64 1991
  • Contemporary Poets -- REFERENCE PR603.C63 1991
  • European Writers -- REFERENCE PN501.E9 1983
  • World Authors -- REFERENCE PN451.W675 1999


  • Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians -- REFERENCE ML105 .B16 2001
  • Contemporary Composers -- REFERENCE ML105.C75 1992
  • Grove Music Online (now Oxford Music Online) full text
  • International Directory of Black Composers -- REFERENCE ML105.I5 1999


  • Continuum Dictionary of Women's Biography -- REFERENCE CT3202.C66 1989
  • Dictionary of Contemporary Women Artists -- REFERENCE N8354.D53 1997
  • Great Lives From History: American Women -- REFERENCE HQ1412.G74 1995
  • Notable American Women: 1607-1950 -- REFERENCE CT3260.N6
  • Notable American Women: The Modern Period -- REFERENCE CT3260.N62
  • Women in World History -- REFERENCE HQ1115.W6 1999


  • American Men and Women of Science -- REFERENCE Q141.A47 2003
  • Dictionary of Scientific Biography -- REFERENCE Q141.D5 1981

Last updated March 8, 2011