Research Guides

Beyond Wikipedia: Background & Reference Sources

Biographical Reference Sources

Public Records

Federal, state, and local government records, including birth certificates, marriage and divorce certificates, death certificates, and census records are invaluable for genealogical and historical research into the lives of individuals and families.  Following are resources to help you get started:

Reclaim The Records is a not-for-profit activist group of genealogists, historians, researchers, and open government advocates who sue government agencies and archives to obtain access to public records.  Reclaim The Records digitizes everything they win and posts it online for free for all to use without restrictions.  They have so far made available indexes to birth, marriage, and death indexes in several states, including New York and New Jersey.  And they have multiple outstanding FOIA requests for nationwide records and state-level records across the U.S. 

Everyone Counts: Using the Census in Genealogy Research - A very helpful research guide from the New York Public Library.  Also see the NYPL's guide on Conducting Genealogical Research Using Newspapers for further search strategies.  

Finding Biographies in the Library

To find biographical sources in OneSearchWorldCat, or other library catalog, choose the Advanced Search function and add the word “Biography” as an additional Subject term to your Keyword or Subject search.  If you are searching for biographies of a particular person, search on the person's name in the Subject field.

Archival Sources: Personal Papers

Consult our Archival Research Guide for tips on finding and using collections of manuscripts and personal papers in your research.

Collected Biographies in the GC Library

To find collected biographies -- titles like the Dictionary of American Biography, Great Historians from Antiquity to 1800, or Dictionary of Russian Women Writers -- in the Graduate Center Library's print and electronic collections:

  • Choose the Advanced Search function in CUNY's OneSearch tool
  • At the top of the search box, limit results to the GC Library by selecting the "GC" radio button
  • On the first line of the search choose "Subject" instead of "Any field" from the drop-down menu and "contains" and type in the word "biography"
  • On the second line, select either "Any field" or "Subject" and "contains" and type in your search term
  • Select "Books" under the Resource Type
  • Click on the Search button to see results
  • Refine your results by adjusting your search terms and/or by using the Topic/Subject and other filters on the right side of the screen

Newspapers & Magazines

Newspaper and magazine articles can be fruitful sources for biographical research.  Following are just a few suggestions to get you started: