Biography – Reference Sources | Newberry

Biography – Reference Sources

Klaus Stopp, The printed birth and baptismal certificates of German Americans.

Klaus Stopp. Printed birth and baptismal certificates of German Americans. Klaus Stopp Collection #236.

The Newberry collections provide excellent support for biographical research, both on famous individuals and on everyday people. The following resources will help you search the Newberry’s collections for information on individual lives. This is not intended as a comprehensive list of our works on biography; instead, this guide provides a selection of relevant works to serve as an overview of the sorts of materials you will find in the Newberry collections. Reference librarians are happy to help you find additional items or information.

Reference Resources

The open shelves on the third floor of the Newberry contain indices, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and bibliographies that will assist you with locating information on individuals.


These reference works are a good starting point for biographical research, since they index many of the other resources listed in this guide.

American Biographical Index. New York: Saur, 1993. Call Number: Ref CT 211 .A45 (Biography Index Table). Index to 368 biographical reference works published between 1702 and 1956; Newberry holdings are marked in volume one.

Black Biography, 1790-1950: A Cumulative Index. Alexandria, VA: Chadwych-Healy, 1991. Call Number: Ref Z 1361 .N39 B52 1990 (Biography Index Table). May be used as an index to the 297 titles included in the microfilm set titled: Black Biographical Dictionaries, 1790-1950 (Microfiche 5428).

Biography Index. New York: H. W. Wilson. Call Number: Ref Z 5301 .B5 (Biography Index Table). Cites biographical material appearing in 3000+ periodicals, and 2000+ current books of individual and collective biography.

Biography and Genealogy Master Index. Detroit: Gale, 1980-90. Call Number: Ref Z 5305 .U5 B57 1980-90 (Biography Index Table). Index to millions of biographical sketches in 2700+ works covering figures throughout the world. *This resource is also available online via the Library’s subscription to Ancestry Library Edition.

British Biographical Index. New York: Saur, 1990. Call Number: Ref CT 773 .C75 1990 (Biography Index Table). Index to 334 biographical reference works published between 1601 and 1929; Newberry holdings marked in volume one.

Index Biographique Francais. London: Saur, 1993. Call Number: Ref CT 1003 .I53 1993 (Biography Index Table). Index to 180 biographical reference works published between 1647 and 1986; Newberry holdings marked in volume one.

Indice biografico de Espana, Portugal e Iberoamericana. New York: Saur, 1990. Call Number: Ref CT 1345 .I53 1990 (Biography Index Table). Index to 306 biographical reference works published between the 17th and 20th centuries.

Indice Biografico Italiano. New York: Saur, 1993. Call Number: Ref CT 1123 .I53 1993 (Biography Index Table). Index to 321 biographical reference works published between the 17th and 20th centuries.

New York Times Obituaries Index. New York: New York Times, 1970-1980. Call Number: Ref CT 213 .N47 (Biography Index Table). Alphabetical listing of “Deaths” from The New York Times, 1858-1978.

Personal Name Index to “The New York Times Index,” 1851-1996. Succasunna, NJ: RDI, 1976-1996. Call Number: Ref Z 5301 .F28 1976 (Biography Index Table). Citations refer to the New York Times Index, call number Ref A I21 .N45.

Women in Particular. Phoenix: Oryx Press, 1984. Call Number: Ref HQ 1412 .H47 1984. Index to American women from 54 works of collective biography.

Biographical Dictionaries and Encyclopedias

Biographical dictionaries and encyclopedias contain biographical sketches with bibliographies to lead you to additional information on the subjects. The dictionaries and encyclopedias are organized based on shared personal characteristics, such as nationality, ethnic heritage, profession, or time period.

National Biographies: American

American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Call Number: Ref CT 213 .A68 1999. Successor to the Dictionary of American Biography.

Dictionary of American Biography. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1928-1958. Call Number: Ref E 176 .D56 and D563, plus Index and Supplements.  This reference work of individual biographies is limited to Americans no longer living who have made some significant contribution to American life. The fourth supplement brings the data up to 1950.

National Cyclopedia of American Biography. Clifton, NJ: White, 1984. Call Number: Ref E 176 .N27. Comprehensive American biographical dictionary covers 1892-1984. Not alphabetical, use volume indexes and the general index, call number Ref E 176 .N27 Index.

Other National Biographies:

Biographisch Woordenboek der Nederlanden. Amsterdam : B. M. Israël, 1969. Call Number: Ref CT 1143 .A22 1969.

Deutsche Biographische Enzyklopädie (DBE). New Providence : K.G. Saur, 1995-2000. Call Number: Ref CT 759 .D48 1995.

Dictionnaire de Biographie Francaise. Paris : Letouzey et Ané, 1933- Call Number: Ref CT 143 .D5.

Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1966-2005. Call Number: Ref F 1005 .D49.

Dictionary of Irish Biography: From the Earliest Times to the Year 2002. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Call Number: Ref CT 863 .D53 2009.

Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani. Roma : Istituto della enciclopedia italiana, 1960-. Call Number: Ref CT 1123 .D5.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Call Number: Ref DA 28 .O95 2004. The major reference work for British biography, including inhabitants of the British Isles and the colonies, as well as Americans of the colonial period. It does not include persons alive as of 31 December 2000. The previous edition (Ref DA 28 .D47) and its many supplements are useful for a Victorian perspective on figures before 1900.

Ethnic and Gender-Based Biographies:

African American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008 Call Number: Ref E 185.96 .A4466 2008.

American Indian Biographies. Pasadena: Salem Press, 1999. Call Number: Ref E 89 .A46 1999.

Notable American Women. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971. Call Number: Ref CT 3260 .N57.

Professional Biographies:

Biographical Dictionary of English Court Musicians, 1485-1714. Brookfield: Ashgate, 1998. Call Number: Ref ML 106 .G7 B56 1998.

Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-1989. Washington, D.C.: U.S. G.P.O., 1989. Call Number: Ref JK 1010 .A5 1989.

Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1978-. Call Number: Ref PN 451 .D5. This series of biographical essays is arranged by genre within periods. Subjects include authors, book collectors, book sellers, editors, journalists, and publishers. Biographical information is integrated with brief synopses and criticism. Selected bibliographies include primary and secondary sources.

World Explorers and Discoverers. New York: Maxwell Macmillan International, 1992. Call Number: Ref G 200 .W67 1992.

Biographies by Time Period:

Contemporaries of Erasmus: A Biographical Register of the Renaissance and Reformation. Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 1985-1987. Call Number: Ref CT 116 .C65 1985.


Bibliographies will lead you to print and manuscript biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs.

American Diaries: An Annotated Bibliography of Published American Diaries and Journals. Detroit: Gale Research, 1983-1987. Call Number: Ref Z 5305 .U5 A74 1983.

American Diaries in Manuscript, 1580-1954: A Descriptive Bibliography. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1974. Call Number: Ref Z 5305 .U5 M32.

Biographical Dictionaries and Related Works. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 1986. Call Number: Ref Z 5301 .S55 1986.

Biographies of American Women: An Annotated Bibliography. Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, 1990. Call Number: Ref Z 7963 .B6 S88 1990.

Remembered Childhoods: A Guide to Autobiography and Memoirs of Childhood and Youth. Call Number: Ref Z 5304 .C5 L66 2007.

Tips for Searching the Online Catalog

The Newberry collections contain so many biographical resources that keyword searching can be overwhelming. For more manageable results, search the catalog by subject. 

To locate information on a well-known individual, search for his or her name as a subject:

  • Dickinson, Emily
  • Geronimo

To find information on some individuals, you may need to search for works on wider topics. To locate these, search by subject for phrases such as the following:

Ethnic Group

  • African Americans – Biography
  • Indians of North America – Biography


  • Blatchford Family


  • Chicago (Ill.) – Biography
  • Cook County (Ill.) – Biography
  • Illinois – Biography
  • West (U.S.) – Biography
  • United States – Biography


  • Architects – Great Britain – Biography
  • American Literature – Bio-bibliography
  • Authors – 19th century – Biography
  • Clergy – Biography
  • Railroads – Biography

Time Period

  • Biography –Middle Ages, 500-1500
  • United States – History – Civil War, 1861-1865 – Biography

For accounts of individual lives, search by subject for phrases such as the following:

  • Autobiographies
  • Autobiography
  • Captivity narratives
  • Diaries
  • Slave narratives

Tips for Locating Manuscript Collections at the Newberry 

Many of the Newberry’s manuscript collections are searchable in the online catalog. You can also search the following phrases as a subject in the online catalog to locate manuscript materials:

  • Correspondence
  • Diaries
  • Manuscripts, American

To locate manuscript collections that are not accessible in the online catalog, use the Modern Manuscripts Abstract Search. You can search across manuscript inventories by using ArchiveGrid.

Online Resources

Subscription Databases:

In recent years, the Newberry has supplemented its collections by subscribing to several databases. These are available for use on all Newberry computers and, in some cases, on personal laptops within the library. These resources are not available outside the Newberry building.

Ancestry Library Edition.

This database, which contains the largest collection of family history documents on the web, is useful for learning about individuals. Ancestry allows you to search the U.S. Federal Census, which contains extensive information on individuals. The database also provides access to bibliographies and biographical indexes, as well as to digitized periodicals.

HeritageQuest Online.

HeritageQuest is another database centered on family history materials. Like Ancestry Library Edition, this database contains many tools useful for local historians, including the Periodical Source Index, the U.S. Federal Census, and digitized books and periodicals.

Historical Chicago Tribune.

Using this database you can search issues of the Chicago Tribune published from 1849 through 1985.  The search interface allows you to limit your search to obituaries, and to limit by date.

Historical New York Times.

Using this database you can search issues of the New York Times published from 1851 through 2003. The search interface allows you to limit your search to obituaries, and to limit by date.

Free Resources:

These free electronic resources also contain useful information about individuals:

American Memory Project.

This site contains thousands of materials related to biography, including collections such as American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940; .Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938; and California: First-Person Narratives, Books, 1849-1900.

American Social History Online.

More than 175 collections of material about life in nineteenth and twentieth century America are accessible through this repository, a project of the Digital Library Federation. You can search by place, subject, or time period.

Cyndi’s List: Biographies.

More than 200 biographical resources are available in this guide to biographies from Cyndi’s List, an aggregator of genealogical resources on the Internet.

Family History Archive.

This collection of more than 15,000 full-text resources includes county and local histories, family histories, and articles from genealogical and local history journals. Works have been contributed by nine major genealogy repositories, including Allen County Public Library, the Family History Library, and the Mid-Continent Public Library Midwest Genealogy Center.

Google Books.

Google Books contains full-text digital versions of many autobiographies, biographies, and biographical resources. To limit your search to retrieve the most relevant results, use the advanced search interface, search by subject, search “full view only,” and limit the dates of publication.

HathiTrust Digital Library.

The HathiTrust Digital Library contains more than 2 million works in the public domain that are available in full-text. Works are contributed by more than 50 research libraries. To limit your search to retrieve the most relevant results, choose the search the catalog option, search by subject, and search “full view only.”

Internet Archive.

The Internet Archive is creating an online library of audio materials, books, moving images, photographs, software, and web sites. The Newberry Library has collaborated with the Internet Archive to digitize several congregational, professional, and social directories, which contain biographical information. You can search the archive by contributor to locate all materials provided by the Newberry Library. Alternatively, you can search the complete archive by subject, or by title.

Making of America.

The Making of America website is a digital library of more than 10,000 books and 50,000 journal articles published in the United States between 1850 and 1877. Biographical bibliographies, biographical dictionaries, biographies, compilation biographies, and county histories are included in the collection