Making the Most of Your Library

Part 4 -- Biographical Sources

Copyright 1990, 1998 by Leigh Kimmel

Originally appeared in SF&FW Newsletter #126, March 1992

For permission to quote or reprint, contact Leigh Kimmel

This article originally appeared in Science Fiction & Fantasy Workshop Newsletter

Biographical sources give information about people, often in a form that is more like a directory than an encyclopedia. There are many different biographical sources for persons who are not sufficiently important to have an entire book or even an encyclopedia article written about them. Probably the most familiar are the works of the “Who’s Who” variety. These works give information about living people, and the entries are frequently written by the persons with whom they deal. These works give brief synopses of the high points of the biographees’ lives, including such things as their birthdates, names of family members, educational and career highlights and works that they may have published.

Another source for living persons is Current Biography, a periodical with annual compilations which gives brief biographical essays and portraits of persons who are currently in the news. This is an excellent source for material on people who were famous briefly but who never reached the status to have biographies in more general reference works.

Biographical dictionaries, by contrast, are usually restricted to persons who are no longer living. They are often regarded as being somewhat more authoritative than works listing living persons because there is often a stipulation that an individual must have been dead a certain number of years for consideration, a stipulation which is seen as enabling historians to judge the true worth of an individual’s contribution to society.

In addition to the general “Who’s Who” works and biographical dictionaries, there are also subject biographical sources. Since these sources are restricted to persons working in a particular field such as music or librarianship, they are able to include individuals who would not be regarded as sufficiently well-known to merit inclusion in the more general biographical reference works.

With so many sources to turn to, a researcher can easily become overwhelmed with the question of where to begin. However there is no need to go plunging in pell-mell in hopes of stumbling across the citation one seeks. There is a single source that will guide the researcher to those sources which contain biographies of the desired person. This is the Biography and Geneology Master Index, which should be the starting place for any biographical search.

Copyright 1990, 1998 by Leigh Kimmel

For permission to quote or reprint, contact Leigh Kimmel

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