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How to find . . .: biographies


Reading the few pages of a preface, introduction, or forward in most biographical reference books will help you understand the scope and purpose of the work. By reading these few pages at the beginning of a book, one can usually figure out if it will have a biography on someone you want. In addition, there may be instructions or suggestions on how to use the book or entries effectively.

Some databases list names in direct or reading order with the given name first, like:

   Marie Curie

   Tim Tebow

other databases and all library catalogs arrange names in inverse or catalog order with surname first, like:

   Dylan, Bob

   Winfrey, Oprah

General biography

General Sources for Living and Dead People

  • Biography Almanac, 3 vols.  (REF. CT104 .B56 1987)  Gives birth/death dates, nationality, occupation, and sources for further reading.
  • Biography Index  (REF. Z5301 .B5). A bibliography of biographical articles, books, pamphlets, etc., issued four times per year.
  • Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography (REF. CT213.C36 1995)
  • Chambers Biographical Dictionary  (REF. CT103 .C4 1986). Particularly good for Europeans; birth/death dates, nationality, occupation, and a brief biographical sketch
  • American National Biography  (REF. CT219 .A68 1999). 24-volume successor to the Dictionary of American Biography (see next entry); ANB includes about 17,500 entries, each of at least 750 words
  • Dictionary of American Biography  (REF. E176 .D563)
  • Dictionary of National Biography  (REF. DA 28 .D4). For citizens of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
  • Encyclopedia of American Biography  (REF. CT213 .G37 1974)
  • International Dictionary of 20th Century Biography (REF. CT103 .V38 1987). Over 5,000 short biographical sketches of notable personalities of the 20th century
  • Notable Americans: What They Did, from 1620 to the Present  (REF. E176 .N89 1988)


  • Annual Obituary  (REF. CT120 .A55) An annual compilation of obituaries written especially for Annual Obituary; begins with 1980.
  • New York Times Obituaries Index, 1858-1978, 2 vols. (REF. CT 213.N47). Indexes the microfilm copy of New York Times; microfilm in Rogers Media Center

General Sources for Living Persons

  • Columbia Dictionary of Political Biography  (REF. D108.C65 1991)
  • Current Biography  (REF. CT100 .A88) Excellent for current newsmakers; monthly, begins 1940
  • Who's Who in America  (REF. E663 .W56) Over 100,000 brief biographies of notable Americans, Canadians, and Mexicans; annual
  • Who's Who  (REF. DA28 .W6) Contains short biographies of outstanding citizens of Great Britain and the British Commonwealth
  • International Who's Who (REF. CT120 .I5)

Biography sources (by general subject)

Business Leaders

  • Standard and Poor's Register of Corporations, vol. 2  (REF. HG4057.44 v.2)
  • Who's Who in Finance and Industry  (REF. HF3023 .A2W5)

Government and Politics

  • Almanac of American Politics  (REF. JK1012 .A44 1994)
  • Biographical Dictionary of the United States Congress, 1774-1989  (REF. JK1010 .U5 1989)
  • Columbia Dictionary of Political Biography  (REF. D108 .C65 1991)
  • Congressional Directory  (REF. JK1011 V.104). Most recent edition is kept in Ready Reference.
  • Federal Staff Directory  (REF. JK723 .E9.F44 1995). A directory of non-elected federal employees.
  • International Yearbook and Statesmen's Who's Who.  (REF. JA51 .I57). Important government officials from around the world.
  • Politics in America  (REF. JK1010 .C67 1991)
  • Who's Who in American Politics  (REF. E176 .W6424 1996). PML's Holdings begin with 1st edition (1966)
  • Tennessee Blue Book  (REF. JK5230 .A3 1991-94). Tennessee elected and non-elected officials at the state level. Ready Reference.
  • Tennessee Government Officials Directory  (REF. JK5231 .A18). A loose-leaf service updated periodically
  • Biographical Directory of American Mayors, 1820-1980, Big City Mayors  (REF. E176 .B5725)
  • Biographical Directory of the United States Executive Branch, 1774-1989  (REF. E176 .B578 1990)

Historical Figures

  • Dictionary of American Biography  (REF. E176 .D563)
  • Encyclopedia of American Biography  (REF. CT213 .G37 1974)
  • Who Was Who in America with World Notables  (REF. E176 .W64)
  • Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography  (REF. E176 .A666)
  • Dictionary of National Biography (British)  (REF. DA28 .D4)
  • Lesser Known Women  (REF. CT3203 .G57 l992)
  • Reference Library of Black America. 5 Vols.  (REF. E185 .R44 1994)
  • Who Was Who in Native American History  (REF. E89 .W35 1990)


  • African-American Writers (REF. PS153 .N5.A344 1991)
  • African Writers (REF. PL8010 .A53 1997)
  • American Dramatists (REF. Z6519 .C64 v.3)
  • American Authors, 1600-1900  (REF. PS21 .K8)
  • American Playwrights, 1880-1945  (Ref. PS351 .A53 1995)
  • American Women Writers  (REF. PS147 .A4)
  • Contemporary Authors  (REF. Z1224 .C58 and .C6)
  • Contemporary Authors: Cumulative Index  (REF. Z1224 .C65)
  • Contemporary Dramatists, 4th ed.  (REF. PR373 .C57 1988)
  • Contemporary Novelists, 5th ed.  (REF. PR883 .C64 1991)
  • Contemporary Poets, 5th ed.  (REF. PR603 .C6 1991)
  • Contemporary Poets, Dramatist, Essayists, and Novelists of the South  (REF. PS261 .C568 1994)
  • Contemporary Popular Writers  (REF. PR478 .P66C66 1997)
  • Contemporary Women Poets  (REF. PS151 .C67 1997)
  • Cyclopedia of World Authors. 4 vols.  (REF. PN451 .C93 1989)
  • Encyclopedia of Southern Literature  (REF. PS261 .S515 1997)
  • Great Women Writers  (REF PN471 .G74 1994)
  • Larousse Dictionary of Writers  (REF. PN451 .C93 1989)
  • Magills Short Story Writers  (REF. PN3373 .S398 1997)
  • Modern American Women Writers  (REF. PS151 .M54 1991)
  • Twentieth Century Western Writers (Writers of "Westerns")  (REF. PS271 .T84 1991)
  • World Authors, 1950-1970  (REF. PN451 .W3)
  • World Authors, 1970-1975  (REF. PN451 .W67)
  • World Authors, 1975-1980  (REF. PN451 .W672)
  • Writer's Directory  (REF. PS1 .W73 1988-1990)


  • Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians  (REF. ML105 .B16 1991)
  • Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians  (REF. ML105 .S67 1982)
  • Blues Who's Who  (REF. ML102 .B6H3 1991)
  • Dictionary of Pop/Rock  (REF. ML102 .P66S5 1982)
  • Dictionary of Twentieth Century Composers  (REF. ML118 .T5)
  • Encyclopedia of Folk, Country, and Western Music  (REF. ML102 .F66S7 1983)
  • New Grove Dictionary of American Music  (REF. ML101 .U6N48 1986)
  • New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians  (REF. ML100 .N48)
  • New Grove Dictionary of Opera. 4 volumes  (REF. ML102 .O6N5 1992)
  • Rock On : The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock 'n Roll  (REF. ML105 .N49 1982)
  • Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll  (REF. ML102 .R6R64 1983)

Motion Pictures Actors, Directors, Etc.

  • American Film Directors  (REF. PN1998 .A2.L328)
  • Biographical Dictionary of Film  (REF. PN1998.2 .T49 1994)
  • Directory of Film makers  (REF. PN1993.45 .S313)
  • Film Encyclopedia  (REF. PN1993.45 .K34 1994)
  • Halliwell's Filmgoers and Video Viewers  (REF. PN1993.45 .H34 1993)
  • Illustrated Who's Who of the Cinema  (REF. PN1998.A2 .I48 1983)
  • International Dictionary of Films and Film Makers, 4 vols.  (REF. PN 1997.8 .I58 1990)
  • Who Was Who on the Screen  (REF. PN1998 .A2T73 1983)
  • World Film Directors  (REF. PN1998.2 .W67 1987)

Scholars and Scientists

  • American Men and Women of Science  (REF. Q141 .A47)
  • Directory of American Scholars  (REF. LA2311 .C32)
  • Dictionary of Scientific Biography  (REF. Q141 .D5)
  • Encyclopedia of Psychology  (REF. BF31 .E52 1994)
  • Encyclopedia of Religion  (REF. BL31 .E46 1987)
  • International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol 18.  (REF. H40 .A2)
  • Larousse Dictionary of Scientists  (REF. Q141 .L36 1994)
  • Names in the History of Psychology  (REF. Q141 .L36 1994)
  • World's Who's Who in Science: From Antiquity to the Present  (REF. Q141 .W7)
  • Biographical Dictionary of Psychology  (REF. BF109 .A1Z85 1984)

African Americans

  • African American National Biography, 8 vols.  (Ref. E185.96 .A4466 2008)
  • African-American Biographies  (REF. E185.96 .H38 1992)
  • African-American Encyclopedia, 6 vols.  (REF. E185 .A253 1993)
  • African-American Writers.  (REF. PS153 .N5A344 1991)
  • Black women in America, 2 vols.  (REF. E185.86 .B542 1993)
  • Notable Black American Women  (REF. E185.96 .N68 1992)
  • Reference Library of Black America, 5 vols  (REF. E185 .R44 1994)
  • The Negro Almanac: A Reference Work on the African-American.  (REF. E185 .N385 1989)
  • Who's Who Among Africian Americans, 1988-99  (REF. E185.96 .W52)
  • Who's Who among Black Americans  (REF. E185.96 .W52 1990/1991)

Native Americans

  • American Indian Biographies  (REF.E89 .A46 1999)
  • Contemporary American Indian Leaders  (REF. E89 .G74)
  • Great North American Indians  (REF. E89 .D55)
  • Reference Encyclopedia of the American Indian. . . . vol II, Who's Who  (REF. E76.2 .R4)
  • Who Was Who in Native American History: . . .  (REF. E89 .W35 1990)


  • American Men and Women of Science  (REF. Q141 .A47)
  • American Women  (REF. CT3260 .W56 1973)
  • American Women Writers  (REf. PS147 .A4)
  • Black Women in America, 2 vols.  (REF. E185.86 .B542 1993)
  • Great Women Writers  (REF. PN471 .G74 1994)
  • The International Dictionary of Women's Biography  (REF. CT3202 .I57 1982)
  • Modern American Women Writers  (REF. PS151 .M54 1991)
  • Notable American Women, 1607-1950  (REF. CT3260 .N57)
  • Notable American Women, the Modern Period  (REF. CT3260 .N573)
  • Notable Black American Women  (REF. E185.96 .N68 1992)
  • Lesser Known Women  (REF. CT3203 .G57 1992) Historical figures. International in scope.

Latino Americans

  • Mexican-American Biographies: a Historical Dictionary, 1836-1987  (REF. E184 .M5M454 1988)
  • Notable Latino Americans  (REF. E184 .S75M435 1997)

Asian - Americans

  • Dictionary of Asian-American History  (REF. E184 .O6D53 1986)

Single biographies

Biographies in book form are catalogued individually and can be located in the library catalogue by doing a search for a person's name under <subject>