Biographical Resources

There are so many potential biographical resources that it is very difficult to narrow it down to five. There are general biographical resources, resources for people currently living, resources for the recently dead, the long dead, sources for people of particular countries, ethnicities, genders, people who were scientists or artists or sports figures – you name it.

Some general online resources available at most academic and public libraries, which I accessed through the San Francisco Public Library (go to Articles and Databases on the homepage) :

(all links must have an active San Francisco Public Library card to utilize)

Biography and Genealogy Master Index | (Gale) Current
Biographical and genealogical index to contemporary and historical figures worldwide. This resource does not contain biographical information, but it refers you to over 13 million books that contain biographical information on people living and dead, all cultures, all times, all fields.

Biography Resource Center+Marquis Whos Who | (Gale) full text 1927 – present
Full text biographies and articles on contemporary and historical figures worldwide. This resource contains short biographical essays on a wide range of people.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography full text
Over 55,000 biographies describing the lives of people who shaped the history of the British Isles and beyond. The United Kingdom’s national biography resource.

Literature Resource Center | (Gale) full text
Biographies, articles, criticism, overviews, glossary, and more on writers and literature. Excellent resource for biographical data on world authors, living and dead.

SFPL has a great resource page strictly devoted to the biographical search and aid of the user in their search. It can me found in the “Article and Database” section alphabetically look for Biographical Information Guide.

1. A good starting point is the Biography Resource Center & The Complete Marquis Who’s Who. These two databases can be searched together in order to find biographies, articles, portraits, and other sources on more than one million people from throughout history and around the world including authors, actors, musicians, political leaders, religious leaders, artists, historic figures and more. In many cases, this will provide the information needed without any further research.

2. For information about people who are connected with the history of the British Isles, use the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

3. For book-length biographies check the online catalog. Try a subject search for: Last Name, First Name.

4. For Members of the US Congress information, use Lexis-Nexis Congressional. Choose the Members link to find:

o committee assignments

o bills sponsored

o voting records

o floor statements

o campaign finance records

o financial disclosures

o other biographical information for members of Congress back to 1997

5. For musicians, try Oxford Music Online.

6. For more on authors, try the Literature Resource Center. For children’s authors try Something About the Author.

7. For more on artists, try the Art Full Text database.

8. For a list of additional biography resources on the Web, view the Librarians’ Index to the Internet (LII) People page. More specific lists are available from the LII California People page.

9. Search the Biography & Genealogy Master Index for more than 13.3 million biographical sketches from an extremely broad selection of biographical reference sources. Use this index to locate information on lesser-known people who cannot be found in the full text databases. Although it does not index every major biographical source in our collection it comes very close. Use it as a gateway to our print resources.

10. Specialized sources on local people are available in the following Library departments:

o The Art & Music Center has files on Visual Artists and Architects who have lived and worked in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as files on San Francisco Bay Area musicians and performing artists and Northern California Composers.

o The San Francisco History Center has biographical files on current and historical San Franciscans including historical photographs of local residents.

11. Finally, if none of these sources contain the biographical information you are looking for, or if you get stuck at any point, ask a reference librarian for further assistance.


Lastly there are many excellent print resources. One of the best for Americans:

American national biography / general editors, John A. Garraty, Mark C. Carnes.

The U.S. competition to the British source noted above.

New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

920.073 Am353

The U.S. competition to the British source noted above.

The possibilities are pretty endless. The electronic resources noted above are the ones our library could afford and felt would be most useful to our patrons.


William Blake (1757–1827), by Thomas Phillips, 1807

William Blake (1757-1827), “Nebukadnezar” (1795)

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