Finding Biographical Sources

American National Biography Online

A standard source for U.S. historical biography with over 17,000 individual entries. The ANB Online is fully searchable and includes illustrations, cross-references, and links to external web sites. (HJB)

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

The electronic version of the new edition of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography published in 2004, the sixty volumes of which include 50,000 biographies and some 10,000 images of deceased "men and women who have shaped all aspects of the British past." Enhancements available online include the ability to view articles from the earlier edition of the DNB; a "Themes" section that provides access to "reference lists" of individuals who have held particular offices (e.g., Archbishops of Canterbury) and to essays on various topics (e.g., The General Election of 1964: Forty Years On), and links to relevant web sites. (HJB)
Widener RR 1762.2

Dictionary of Literary Biography is a huge series of volumes offering biographical-critical essays on authors, including references for interviews, critical writings. Coverage is international, with emphasis on English and American.
Lamont REF.ROOM PN451 .D5 1978x (Lamont holds selected volumes.)
Widener RR3129 (Widener holds the complete set.)
The DLB is indexed by name in the Literary Index
Includes numerous volumes on essayists, travel writers, literary biographers, book collectors and bibliographers, major publishing forms, etc. as well as on literary authors.

Biography and Genealogy Master I ndex

An index to nearly 12 million biographical sketches in more than 27November 9, 2007reference books, covering both contemporary and historical figures throughout the world.

Biography in Context

Biography and Genealogy Master Index (BGMI) indexes thousands of English-language biographical dictionaries and other compendia. Not full text; one must do HOLLIS searches for retrieved sources.

World Biographical Information System includes online full text of thousands of biographical dictionaries, published from the 16th to the 20th century, accessible by name of biographee and other criteria, including occupation.

Deutsche biographische Enzyklopädie online Online version is more up-to-date than print. Print version:
Widener: RR 1786.5

English version:
Dictionary of German biography. München: K.G. Saur, 2001-2006. 10 v.
Widener: WID-LC CT759 .D4813 2001x

Includes about 61,000 paragraph-length biographies of deceased individuals from Charlemagne to the 20th century from Germany, Austria, Switzerland and other German-speaking countries, including non-German residents. Short entries keyed to other biographical dictionaries in 13 page list in front of each volume. Also longer on major figures which contain primary and secondary source lists. Secondary sources mainly German; English and other scholarship largely absent.

Two major German-language sources, both with longer articles than the DBE and available full text online, are:

Allgemeine deutsche Biographie. ADB. 56 v.
Widener RR 1786.2.2

Neue deutsche Biographie. NDB. 23 v.
Widener | RR 1786.4

ADB covers early times to the end of the 19th century. As there are supplementary sections in many volumes, it is essential that the index (v. 56 or online) be used for the print version.
NDB (A-Stader has been published) not intended to supersede its predecessor ADB although many of the same names appear in it, along with persons who have died since the older work was published and some additional names from earlier periods.

Biographie Portal is a joint index of:

Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB)
Neue Deutsche Biographie (NDB)
Österreichisches Biographisches Lexikon 1815-1950 (ÖBL)
Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz (HLS)

Datenbank Schriftstellerinnen in Deutschland provides biographical and bibliographical information on German women writers and translators from 1945-.

Women writers of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland : an annotated bio-bibliographical guide, ed. by Elke Frederiksen. NY: Greenwood Press, 1989, 323 p.
Schlesinger | Harvard Depository | 016.83 F852w
Widener | Harvard Depository | PT167.Z99 W66 x, 1989

Contemporaries of Erasmus: a biographical register of the Renaissance and Reformation includes over 1900 biographical sketches of persons, especially intellectuals, educators, religious reformers, and political figures, mentioned in correspondence or works of Erasmus (1466-1536). “Editorial Notes” section is important for effective use. Sources accompany each article. Strongest on French, Dutch, and Germans.

Renaissance and Reformation, 1500-1620: a biographical dictionary which covers cultural - artistic, literary, scholarly, scientific – figures. Lists of biographees by discipline and by country, terminal bibliography, name index.


Dictionnaire de biographie française offers very numerous short (paragraph-page length) articles with source lists. Covers French overseas possessions and French Flanders. In progress, covers A- Lefèvre only. For coverage of the later part of the alphabet, other sources must be used, including Biographie universelle ancienne et moderne and Nouvelle biographie generale (Both in ADDITIONAL RESOURCES).

Les grands hommes d'état de l'histoire de France

Biographie universelle ancienne et modern (widely known as Michaud) and the Nouvelle biographie generale (1853-66; widely known as Hoefer) are both enormous mid-19th century dictionaries of universal biography, especially good for French persons. They contain much not available elsewhere. Full text of Michaud available in Gallica (1870-1873 ed.) and in Google Books (1811-1862 ed.) Hoefer’s Nouvelle biographie generale available full text in Google Books.

Dictionnaire des femmes de l'Ancienne France consists of a list of all known women who lived between the 5th and the 18th centuries. Roughly a fifth of the approximately 1400 names linked to biographies of two types: those written by current scholars and those extracted from 16th-19th century biographical dictionaries.

L’Europe des humanistes (XIVe-XVIIe siècles) gives names, dates, brief occupation and references to over 200 biographical dictionaries and other works for manuscript collectors, scholars, editors and others involved in study of the ancient authors.

Handbuch Gelehrtenkultur der Frühen Neuzeit. Band 1: Bio-bibliographisches Repertorium offers biographical articles with lists of works, editions, and secondary sources (keyed to bibliography in front of vol.) on Renaissance and early modern (15th-early 18th centuries) scholars and intellectuals. Full text of much of the book is available in Google Books, linked from the HOLLIS record. Second volume (not yet received) is a thematic dictionary.