Skip to Main Content

History: A Guide to McFarlin Library Resources: Biography

A guide to online and print sources available through McFarlin Library

Biographical Research

Mary Pickford Who's Who on the Screen

A biography is essentially the story of a person's life.  It may be as short as an encyclopedia article, providing basic information about birth, death, education, career, family life, etc.  Or it may be book-length (even multiple volumes) and go into great detail not only about the person, their life and accomplishments, but the times they lived in, and their impact on their own day as well as their historical significance.  A biography may be about well-known people, such as political leaders, religious figures, movie stars and the like.  It may also be about lesser-known individuals who have made significant contributions to their professions, such as scientists, educators, civil rights activists, authors, and so on.

When conducting biographical research, it's helpful to start out with the basic facts about a person: their full name (correctly spelled!), dates of birth and death (if deceased), nationality and profession.  These can usually be found in an encyclopedia, such as Britannica, Wikipedia or a specialized biographical source.  With this information you can begin tracking down more detailed and scholarly information from academic journals and books, which is what you'll use to write your paper.  Take a look at the box below right for some suggestions as to how you might organize your research into an individual, using Eleanor Roosevelt as an example.

As always, if you have any difficulty tracking down information on the person you're interested in, please contact the McFarlin Library Research Librarians at 918-631-2871 or  We're always ready to help!

Biographical Resources

Case Study: Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt at United Nations - NARA - 196359
Eleanor Roosevelt speaking at the United Nations, July 1947

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) was a major figure in 20th Century America.  Our longest-serving First Lady, she was also a diplomat (representing the U.S. at the United Nations), civil rights and human rights activist, author, broadcaster, and humanitarian.  At the time of her death she was possibly the most recognized and admired woman in the world.  As a result of her prominence, searching for biographical information on Mrs. Roosevelt is both easy and complicated. There is a lot of available information and it's in many different places.  In addition, to really do in-depth research you might want to look for material not only about Mrs. Roosevelt herself but also her husband, other family members, organizations she joined, and causes she supported. It depends on what aspect of Eleanor Roosevelt and her life and work that you're interested in researching.  That's why, as with all research topics, it's important to have a clearly defined thesis statement delineating the parameters of your research and the main idea you want to investigate.

1. Search our catalog under author, subject, and keyword .

2. Search the various journal databases under author, subject and keyword.

3. Search WorldCat for possible ILL options under author, subject and keyword.

4. Check legislative sources for instances when Mrs. Roosevelt was a witness before Congress. There is also a volume of Congressional Memorial Addresses (88th Congress, 1st Session. H.Doc. 152)

5. Check the National Archives and the Roosevelt Presidential Library

6. Check the declassified FBI files on Mrs. Roosevelt

7. Internet sites that meet evaluation criteria of accuracy and authority such as Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project

8. Where else can you think of looking for information?

9. Can't think of anything else?  Try asking a librarian!