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Research Guides

Eastern Washington University Libraries

History 498: Buffalo Bill & The Wild West

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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.

Scope of this Section

This guide serves as an introduction, but it does not include all the titles in the JFK Reference collection. For more resources, you can consult our general Biographies Web page.  If you do not find what you need, then Ask a Librarian for help. If you just need basic facts about an individual, the biographical reference books and databases may be all you need.

It is important to keep in mind that biographical information may not be available for all individuals. If you are looking for information on an author, you may only find what is available in the book itself, or from the publisher's website.

Useful Search Terms

To find biographies of a particular person in a library catalog, the most direct method would be to do a keyword (or subject) search of the person's name and the word biography.

  • Example: Sitting Bull AND biography

Online Resources

Major Resources by Subject

Biographical Reference Books & Databases (All Areas) | United States | Women | Ethnic Biographical Sources |

Biographical Reference Books & Databases (All Areas)

  • *Biography and Genealogy Master Index -- Index to hundreds of biographical dictionaries and "Who's Who" type books, back to 1981; useful for finding which reference book has an entry on a particular person. (Also available in paper at the Reference desk: Ref Desk CT210 B57.)
  • Biography Index CT104 B52 -- Primarily covers American subjects and indexes both periodical articles and books from 1946 to 1994. In addition to the alphabetical listings of individuals, each volume includes an index to occupations.
  • Cambridge Biographical Encyclopedia CT 103 C26 -- Contains over 15,000 short biographies, both historical and contemporary. An updated web version with over 25,000 biographies is available through A&E television at
  •  Encyclopedia of World Biography Ref CT103 E56 (19 vols.) -- Brief biographical sketches provide vital statistics as well as achievements of the person listed.
  • New York Times Obituary Index Ref CT213 N47 (2 vols.) -- v. 1. 1858-1968 -- v. 2. 1969-1978.
  • Personal Name Index to "The New York Times Index" Ref CT104 F32 (22 vols. plus 11 supplemental vols.) -- Covers any mention of a name from 1851 to 2003.

United States

  • *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.
  • 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.


  • Black Women in America Ref E185.86 .B542 (3 vols.) -- Includes biographical essays on individual black women, both historical and contemporary, as well articles on related topics, e.g. affirmative action, the black arts movements, etc.
  • *Notable American Women Ref CT3260 N57 -- Published by Harvard University Press, this set includes lengthy pieces on women of distinction.
  • Notable Black American Women Ref E185.96 N68 -- Lengthy entries on women of distinction. Each volume is on a particular field, e.g. education, science, or music. Each volume includes an index to all volumes.
  • *Who's Who of American Women Ref E176 W647 -- Brief entries which include dates, education, work history and other significant accomplishments.

Ethnic Biographical Sources

  • African American Encyclopedia Ref E185 A53 (10 vols.) -- Includes articles on individuals as wells as by subject.
  • African American Experience -- Offers full text information from over 300 scholarly books and encyclopedias, as well as thousands of primary source documents.
  • Asian American Encyclopedia Ref E184 O6 A827 (6 vols.) -- Includes articles on individuals as well as by subject.
  • *Biographical Dictionary of American Indian History to 1900 Ref E89 W35 -- Covers over 1000 Indians and non-Indians who had a significant impact on United States history prior to 1900.
  • *Encyclopedia of Native American Biography: Six Hundred Life Stories of Important People from Powhatan to Wilma Mankiller Ref E89 J69 --This one volume encyclopedia covers all time periods and tribal affiliations.
  • Facts on File Encyclopedia of Black Women in America Ref E185.96 F2 (11 vols.) -- Arranged by profession, e.g. literature, the arts, education, religion, etc.
  • Latin American Experience -- Offers full text information from over 150 scholarly books and encyclopedias, over 1500 images, as well as hundreds of primary source documents.
  • *Native American Women Ref E98 W8 B38 -- Entries for historical and contemporary American Indian women, with indexes by tribal affiliation, place of birth, time period, and area of significance.



Created by Riva Dean.
Last updated by Paul Victor on Jan. 27, 2015.