Chapter 10. Biographical Sources

Table of Contents

This section includes the important general bibliographies, indexes, and biographical dictionaries. Those devoted to residents of a single country are listed with the appropriate national literature.

General Bibliographies and Indexes

Guides to Biographies

Serial Bibliographies


Biography Index Past and Present. EBSCOhost. Wilson-EBSCO, n.d. 12 Mar. 2013. <>. Updated daily.

Biography Index Retrospective: 1946–1983. EBSCOhost. Wilson-EBSCO, 2013. 19 Mar. 2013. <>.

Biography Index. New York: Wilson-EBSCO, 1946– . Quarterly, with annual and larger cumulations. Subtitle varies. Z5301.B5 016.92.

Biography Reference Bank. EBSCOhost. Wilson-EBSCO, 2013. 3 Jan. 2013. <>.

A biographee index to biographical material and obituaries in about 2,800 periodicals (almost all are in English and covered by other Wilson indexes), a few books (including chapters therein), and some collective biographies and biographical dictionaries. A majority of the individuals covered are Americans. Indexed in each issue and cumulation by professions and occupations. Highly selective and providing no explanation of the criteria governing the selection process and citing many publications that are only remotely biographical, the source is useful principally for locating biographical material in periodicals.

Coverage in Biography Index Past and Present and Biography Index Retrospective begins with 1946; Biography Index includes only entries since July 1984. Both use the EBSCO search interface (I512). Indexed in Biography and Genealogy Master Index (J565).

Biography Reference Bank includes entries in Biography Index, Current Biography (J585), the World Author series (J595a), other Wilson databases and print publications, and biographies by a variety of publishers. It uses a modified version of the EBSCO search interface that allows for searches by occupation or activity.

Other Bibliographies


Biographical Books, 1876–1949. New York: Bowker, 1983. 1,768 pp. Z5301.B48 [CT104] 016.92′002. Biographical Books, 1950–1980. New York: Bowker, 1980. 1,557 pp. Z5301.B68 [CT104] 016.92′002.

A biographee and subject index to biographical books (including biographies, autobiographies, collective biographies, collections of letters, diaries, journals, and biographical dictionaries) published, reprinted, or distributed in the United States between 1876 and 1980. Each entry prints card-catalog copy as it appears in Bowker’s American Book Publishing Record (Q4110) database. Three indexes: vocations (at the beginning); authors; titles. (The 1950–1980 volume prints a superfluous list of books in print.) The total reliance on card-catalog tracings to generate biographee and subject headings leads to the placement of numerous books under vague or general subject heads, the failure to list many works under biographees, the needless duplication of entries, and an incomplete index of vocations. The uncritical reliance on computer-generated indexing and utter lack of editing has produced a seriously flawed work that, while occasionally useful, cannot be relied on to identify biographical books about an individual.


Jarboe, Betty M. Obituaries: A Guide to Sources. 2nd ed. Boston: Hall, 1989. 362 pp. Z5305.U5 J37 [CT214] 016.920073.

A bibliography of indexes through c. 1987—including serial publications, books, articles, and a few manuscripts—of tombstone inscriptions and obituaries in newspapers and periodicals. Although international in coverage, Obituaries emphasizes indexes of American sources. The 3,547 entries are organized variously by title, author, or corporate author in three divisions: international sources, United States (with sections for general studies and for each state), and foreign (with sections for Great Britain, France, Germany, and other countries). A few entries are accompanied by a brief description of scope. Appendixes list by state the location of obituary card files for the United States and online databases that index obituaries. Indexed by subject (but so incompletely that users must scan all possibly relevant sections). Although the work is inconsistently organized, inadequately indexed, too reliant on other sources rather than personal examination, and sketchy in covering foreign sources, Jarboe leads researchers to the major—as well as several obscure and local—indexes to obituaries.

Guides to Scholarship and Criticism


Rollyson, Carl. Biography: An Annotated Bibliography. Pasadena: Salem, 1992. 215 pp. Magill Bibliogs. Z5301.R57 [CT21] 016.808′066.

An annotated bibliography of English-language publications about biography (but fortunately not, as the introduction claims, limited to items “published in the United States”). The approximately 700 entries are organized in eight divisions: biographers on biography, historical and critical studies (with sections for general studies and historical periods), Johnson and Boswell, Leon Edel, psychobiography, feminist biography, innovations in biography, and fictional works that depict biographers. Two indexes: biographical subjects; authors and subjects. Since entries are not numbered, users must search an entire page to track down an index reference and can easily overlook other references to a person or subject on the same page. Although poorly indexed and lacking a clear statement of principles guiding the selection of studies, Biography is the best guide to English-language publications on the theory and practice of biography.