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Biographical Information

Finding information about people's lives.

What is a Biography?

  • A biography is an account of the special and important events in a person's life
  • Not to be confused with bibliography, which is a listing of books and articles on a topic
  • Biographies may be brief and cover only basic information about a person's life such as dates of birth and death, education and vocation
  • A biography may also be very detailed, and cover the cultural background, outstanding accomplishments, and historical significance of an individual.
  • Biographical sources cover living and deceased persons, notable persons in particular countries, persons in specific occupations, celebrities, and civil and government leaders
  • It is helpful when searching for biographical information to know:
    • The person's full name and correct spelling (for example: Smith, Smyth or Smythe)
    • date of birth
    • date of death (when applicable)
    • nationality or country of residence
    • occupation or profession

General Suggestion for Finding Biographical Information

For basic facts about a person (e.g.,"When was Napoleon born?"):

  • General encyclopedias

Can’t find biographical information in general encyclopedias or need more information? Check:

  • One of the general sources listed on this page
  • The specialized biographical reference books listed on the other tabs in this guide

Can’t find the person you are looking for or get enough information from a biographical reference book? Check:

  • One of the biographical master indexes listed on this page. These guide you to books, periodical articles or other reference sources. Please note that sometimes you will be referred to another index.

For highly detailed information:

  • Search UToledo’s online library catalog for books on the person:
  1. Perform a subject search by typing the person's last name followed by their first name, e.g., Whitman, Walt
  2. Execute the search and look for the subheading --Biography. The complete heading in this example is: Whitman, Walt, 1819-1892 – Biography
  • You can also use the UToledo catalog to search for the titles of books and periodicals found in the biographical master indexes

If UToledo does not own a title you want:

  • Use the OhioLINK Library Catalog to directly borrow books from other college libraries in Ohio. Books arrive within three to five business days
  • If the book you need is not available through OhioLINK, or if you need a periodical article that UToledo does not own, fill out an online interlibrary loan (ILLiad) form.
    • There is generally no charge for this service
    • The library may need two to three weeks to get the item you need
  • For assistance with the library catalog, OhioLINK, or interlibrary loan forms, consult a reference librarian at the Information/Reference Desk.

Biographical information may not be available for all individuals. In these cases:

  • Information about an author can sometimes be found by checking the preface or introduction of an author's work for scholarly background and academic achievements
  • Perform an author search in the library catalog by typing in the last name followed by the first name

General Sources - Biography Databases

Biography Reference Bank

General Sources - Reference Books

Biographical Master Indexes

Master Indexes provide a name index to books, periodical articles, and other references where you might find a biography or obituary of someone.  Usually, you can search by name (last, first) and then be given a code for a title, volume, and page number.  Consult the key at the beginning of the book to decipher the title you need.  Search by Title in the UToledo Library Catalog to see if we have the book or periodical, or order it from another OhioLINK library.