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Reference Works for Biography

Reference works for biography may be useful when starting to research an individual who has received less coverage, or to fill in gaps. In addition to providing an introduction to your subject, biographical entries in reference works may offer citations that can lead to other useful sources. 

Look for reference works in categories that broadly represent the activity or circumstances of the subject, for example encyclopedias or dictionaries that focus on a region, time, place, or occupation. 

For example:

Biographical Sources: Search Strategies

Consider and record variant spellings of names, name changes, different roles and changes in identity, aliases, and variations in orthography. Use what you learn to refine your search strategy as you go.

For example:

Pauline Johnson

("pauline johnson" OR "e. pauline johnson" OR Tekahionwake)

Biographical Information: Keyword Searching

Consider synonyms and other search terms related to biography.

For example:




"personal narrative"


Combine terms that describe biography as a concept with search terms that describe the biographical subject.

For example: 

(biograph* OR autobiograph* OR memoir OR "personal narrative" OR autoethnography) ("pauline johnson" OR "e. pauline johnson" OR Tekahionwake)

Biographical Sources as a Genre

To focus on books or ebooks that take a biographical approach to an individual, we can use the "genre" filter for books in LibrarySearch when that filter is available for our search results. 

For example: 

(biograph* OR autobiograph* OR memoir OR "personal narrative" OR autoethnography) ("pauline johnson" OR "e. pauline johnson" OR Tekahionwake)

From search results:

  • select content type = Book / eBook
  • select genre [More...] = biography, biographies, biography & autobiography (...etc.)

Biographical Information: Archival Sources & Special Collections

You may encounter citations to unpublished sources related to an individual in bibliographies and reference lists as you read. In some cases it may be possible to look for and view digitized versions of these materials or to visit the archives, museums or library special collections where they are held. 

In some cases, digitized special collections are made available through Open Access or by subscription from commercial service providers. You may find such items as part of your LibrarySearch results, by filtering with the content type = archival material

For example:

"The Iroquois Women of Canada: Pauline Johnson" in Women of Canada: Their Life and Work (National Council of Women of Canada, 1900).

To find other such sources, also consider and look for archives or organizations that have an interest in maintaining records related to the biographical subject.

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