Biographies, Autobiographies, and Diaries

Background Reading, Lists, and Locations

The Source. 929.1072 So84a2. SSH (Social Science and History Dept.). Good essay on collective biographies.

Reference Sources in History. 016.973 P95h2. SSH. Good lists of biographical sources.

Guide to Reference Books. 011.02 G941t. SSH.

American Reference Books Annual. 011.02 AM35ra EPR (Education, Philosophy & Religion).

Biographical Dictionaries and Related Works. 016.92 SL53b. SSH/STX. Good lists of U.S. and international collective biographies and the indexes to them.

Analytical Bibliography of Universal Collected Biography, Comprising Books Published in the English Tongue in Great Britain and Ireland, America and the British Dominions. C016.92 R39. SSH/STX. Good list of collective biographies published before 1933.

Free Library of Philadelphia (FLP)


Biography and Genealogy Master Index. This index can be found by clicking on the "Databases" link on the Free Library's homepage. It is the best place to begin a search for an individual entry in a collective biography. Source documents indexed in the BGMI are NOT listed below.

American Biographical Index, a 10 vol. index. 920.073 Am35b2. SSH. This is another monumental index that points to a massive microfiche collection.

The Encyclopedia of Pennsylvania Biography, 32 vols. R920 J76. SSH. An index is on the shelf in front of volume 1.

Colonial and Revolutionary Families of Pennsylvania, 17 vols. 929 C71. SSH. A consolidated index to the entire 17 volumes is on the shelf with the set.

Philadelphia Collective Biography Master Index. A one-of-a-kind index that gives the names in the indexes of over 60 published collective biographies that contain information about prominent Philadelphians and other Pennsylvanians. Ask the librarian at the SSH reference desk about this.

United States Local Histories in the Library of Congress 016.973 Un31u. SSH.

A Bibliography of American County Histories 016.973 F472b. SSH.

Bibliography of Pennsylvania History with supplements. 016.9748 P3843b. SSH.

Guide to Genealogical and Historical Research in Pennsylvania 016.9748 H671g3. SSH. All contain lists of local histories. Almost all local histories have some biographical information.

The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography Index, Volumes 1-75 (1877-1951) and Volumes 76-123 (1952-1999). 974.8 P384 Index. SSH. Lists names appearing in the magazine. For indexing of PMHB after 1999 see America: History and Life. This database is accessible through our web site.

Philadelphia Biography Vertical files. Ask at the SSH reference desk about these.

Inquiry files at other Free Library subject departments. For example, the Art department has a great 3x5 inquiry file on prominent local artists and architects, the Theater Department on local actors and actresses, the Literature Department on local writers, and so on. Ask the subject department librarian about "inquiry files."

Try the following strategy to locate international biography:

Check Guide to Reference Books, 011.02 G941t SSH; and the latest editions of American Reference Books Annual, 011.02 AM35RA EPR, and Biographical Dictionaries and Related Works, 016.92 SL53b, SSH/STX. Identify the principal national collective biographies, then search for them in the FLP catalog. If you cannot find them there, inquire at the Interlibrary Loan Department. Find the nearest library that has what you need, then either go there or write to the librarian there.

The best way to find specialized collective biographies is to do a keyword search on the online catalog. Use plain language terms that you think will be in the title of the kind of collective biography you are looking for, keeping in mind that the five general types of collective biography are geographic, ethnic, religious, occupational, and organizational. The following are some general examples:


Two examples are: A Biographical Dictionary of Early American Jews (922.96 R723b) SSH/STX and Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930 (720.922 T188b) ART (Art Department).

See directory.cfm for information concerning directories at FLP. Many directories contain biographical information.


Search the FLP catalog to see if FLP has a copy of the biography you seek. Make a subject search in the online catalog; for example, HOWELL, SAMUEL. Also try HOWELL FAMILY as a subject search to see if the FLP has anything on the Howell family.

Search the ACCESS PA catalog to see if there is a biography on your subject anywhere in Pennsylvania. ACCESS PA can be found on the list of Electronic Resources on the FLP catalog.

Search the OCLC catalog to see if there is a biography on your subject anywhere in the United States. A library staff member in the Interlibrary Loan Department will make this search for you.


Bibliography of American Autobiographies. 016.92 K141b. SSH/STX.

American Life in Autobiography 016.92 L628a. SSH.

American Autobiography 1945-1980. 016.92 Am35a. SSH/STX.

All give lists of American autobiographies.

Search the FLP catalog to see if the FLP has a copy of the autobiography you seek. Make an author search on the online catalog; for example, FRANKLIN, BENJAMIN.

Search the ACCESS PA and OCLC catalogs.


American Diaries. 016.92 Ar48a. SSH/STX. Lists American diarists and their works.

Search the FLP catalog to see if the FLP has a copy of the diary you seek. Make an author search on the online catalog; for example, ABBOTT, LEMUEL.

Search the ACCESS PA and OCLC catalogs.


A great deal of information can be found in death notices and obituaries. A complete list of indexed newspapers and other indexed death notice - obituary sources is at: newspapers.cfm.

Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP)

The HSP is a great place to find biographical information on early Pennsylvanians.

Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania (GSP)

The GSP has some material not available at HSP. Both libraries should be used.

See, then look at all of the items under "Find Content".

National Archives - Mid-Atlantic Branch (NARA)

Temple Urban Archives (TUA)

TUA has the clipping files from the old Philadelphia Bulletin newspaper. Many obituaries and other biographical items of interest can be found here.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS)

The LDS has the largest and most comprehensive collection of genealogical material in the world. Much of the material in their catalog is on microfilm and available for loan at a nominal cost.


The Pennsylvania Department at the Carnegie Library at Pittsburgh has a 235,000 card index that indexes many Pennsylvania histories in one continuous alphabetical list. Ask a librarian