United States Biography

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Portal:United States of America

Thousands of biographies have been written about specific individuals. Copies may be at local historical societies and libraries. Lists of published individual biographies are available at your public library, such as:

  • Biographical Books, 1876-1949 and 1950-1980. New York, New York: Bowker, 1983, 1980. The Family History Library has acquired some individual biographies. These are listed in the Surname Search of the Family History Library Catalog under the individual's name. Also contact other family members for unpublished life histories they may know of.

Thousands of brief biographical sketches have been collected and published in compiled biographies, sometimes called “biographical encyclopedias.” These collections most often include biographies of early settlers and prominent or well-known citizens of a particular state, county, or town. Others feature biographies of scientists, writers, artists, or other vocations.

American Genealogical Biographical Index(AGBI) which spans over 100,000 pages and 200 printed volumes, is one of the most important printed genealogical sources in the United States. It is an every-name index to over 800 printed genealogies and other sources.

Compiled Biographies

Collections of biographies at the Family History Library are generally listed in the Locality Search of the Family History Library Catalog under one of the following:


Some collections are also listed under GENEALOGY.

National and Regional Sources

Most major libraries have excellent collections and indexes of national and regional compilations of biographical material, such as the Dictionary of American Biography or Who's Who in the South and Southwest. These libraries can help you locate additional biographical sources listed in such bibliographies as:

  • Slocum, Robert B., Editor. Biographical Dictionaries and Related Works, Two Volumes. Second Edition. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research, 1986. This lists 16,000 national, state, regional, and vocational publications from the United States and other countries.
  • Cimbala, Diane J., Jennifer Cargill, and Brian Alley. Biographical Sources: A Guide to Dictionaries and Reference Works. Phoenix, Arizona: Oryx Press, 1986..) This lists 689 publications, primarily for the United States, and gives detailed annotations.
  • Biography and Genealogy Master Index, Second Edition., Volumes, annual with five-year cumulations. Gale Biographical Index Series, number 1. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research, 1980-. compact disc number 11, parts A and B.) This is an index to over six million biographies of an estimated two million individuals. It indexes more than 750 national sources but does not include local biographical sources.
  • American Biographical Index. Six Volumes. London, England: Bowker-Saur, 1993.  This is an index to the two records listed below:
  • American Biographical Archive. New York, New York: K.G. Saur, [1986-1989]. (On 884 Family History Library fiche starting with 6052964.)
  • American Biographical Archive, Series 2. New York, New York: K. G. Saur, [1990?]. (On 572 Family History Library fiche starting with 6082181.) Contains more than 280,000 persons who lived from the 1600s to 1920; names were taken from 368 biographies.
  • Black Biography, 1790-1950: A Cumulative Index. Three Volumes. Alexandria, Virginia: Chadwyck-Healey, 1991.  This indexes 30,000 African American biographical references in over 300 titles accumulated in the record below:
  • Black Biographical Dictionaries 1790-1950. Alexandria, Virginia: Chadwyck-Healy, [198-]. (On 1,070 Family History Library fiche starting with 6078941.)

Local Sources

Collections of biographies about residents of a county or town are usually the most helpful for the family history researcher. The information in these biographies may not be available in any other source.

Local libraries and historical societies usually collect biographies and histories about local residents. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, there was a popular trend to publish compiled biographies of local citizens. This was especially common in the midwest and northeastern states. There is no comprehensive nationwide bibliography of these sources, but some statewide and local collections and indexes are described in the state research outlines.

Most local histories also include separate sections or volumes containing biographical sketches of local citizens. Biographical sketches of 170,000 individuals found in 340 local histories are identified in:

  • Index to Biographies in Local Histories in the Library of Congress. Baltimore, Maryland: Magna Carta Book, [1979]. (Family History Library films 1380344-73.)