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Research Guides

Eastern Washington University Libraries

Military Science & ROTC

What is a Biography?

What is a biography?

A biography is an account of a person's life. It may be a brief entry in a larger work or could be a detailed multi-volume work including all aspects of an individual's life, accomplishments and historical significance. Biographical sources may include both living and dead persons, individuals from a particular geographic area, or notable persons in a specific field. To begin your search, any of the following points are useful to know:

  • How much information do you need?
  • Is your subject living or dead? Many major biographical works cover only those no longer living.
  • Person's full name and correct spelling.
  • Dates of birth and death, when applicable.
  • Occupation or profession.
  • Nationality.

It is important to keep in mind that biographical information may not be available for all individuals.

Finding Biographies in the Library Catalog

Try doing an advanced search in the library catalog.  In the first search box, add the name of the person you want to find as a general keyword.  In the second search box, add the term Biography as a subject.  You can also limit by Print Books & only EWU items if you wish.

Need More Help?

This guide serves as an introduction, but it does not include all the titles in the JFK Reference collection. If you need more help, then contact us in person or use our Ask a Librarian chat service.

Biographical Databases


Find Books, Videos

Having problems requesting items via Summit? Please contact the JFK Circulation Desk at 509.359.7888,, or in person on the main level. 

U.S. Biographies

  • American National Biography (ANB) Ref CT213 A68 (24 vols. plus supplements) -- Fundamental source of historical American biography. It offers portraits of more than 17,400 men and women whose lives have shaped the nation. All figures included in the ANB died before 1996. Supplements include individuals who died through 2004.
  • Dictionary of American Biography (DAB) Ref E176 D56 -- Includes only Americans who have died. The original 20 vols. were issued 1928-36; ten supplements go up through 1980. Lengthy pieces on individuals who have made a significant contribution to American society across fields including politics, literature, the arts, and business.
  • Who Was Who in America Ref E176 W64 -- One of the most comprehensive biographical sources of people who made a contribution to American history and have died. (Also available online in Marquis Who's Who.)
  • Who's Who in the West Ref F595 W64 -- A biographical dictionary of noteworthy men and women of the western states. Latest ed. in JFK Ref., previous eds. in Special Collections. (Also available online in Marquis Who's Who.)