Biographies, Memoirs & Personal Narratives

Find biographical information for any purpose - general reading, study, genealogy research. If you need help, please stop by the Reference Desk to talk with us or see contact information in the right column of this page.


  • Ancestry Library Edition Genealogy
    ProQuest has partnered with to create Ancestry® Library Edition. It covers the U.S. and the U.K., including census, vital, church, court, and immigration records, as well as record collections from Canada and other areas. This collection has more than 4,000 databases, 1.5 billion names, and covers the years 1300 - present. Note: This database is only available for use from Library computers.
  • Grolier Encyclopedias
    Grolier Encyclopedias include Encyclopedia Americana, Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, New Book of Popular Science, and New Book of Knowledge. Older students and adults should check out "Profiles" in Encyclopedia Americana's - "Biographies of the famous, the infamous and the highly influential."
  • Heritage Quest Online Genealogy
    Combines digital, searchable images of U.S. federal census records with the digitized version of the UMI® Genealogy & Local History collection and other valuable content.
  • Literary Reference Center (EBSCO) - This full-text database features a collection of author biographies, plot summaries, and critical analyses of literary works from literary reference books, monographs, magazines & journals, and other publications. There are also links to 8,000 classic novels, 11,000 short stories, 25,000 poems and 1,000+ images of literary figures. Available from home. Funded with RBDB funds through the South Central Regional Library Council.
  • Literature Resource Center - discontinued July, 2013

Searching the Catalog

You can use the Polaris online catalog to find materials at our library, as well as request them from other libraries in the Finger Lakes Library System.Search by keyword, title, author, subject, general notes, publisher, genre, series, etc. The Advanced search page lets you combine terms and set limits to your search. If you're not sure which search terms to use, try browsing by title, author, subject, serie, or call number. Suggested subject headings for biographies, memoirs and personal narratives, as well as genealogy, are listed below. You can also search for names of persons in the fields for subject, author or title.

Reference Librarians are happy to show you how to search the catalog and to suggest titles. Be sure to stop by the Reference Desk or contact us anytime you need help.


Tompkins County Public Library offers you a wealth of biographical sources, including reference books, encyclopedias, Individual biographies and a local history (LH) collection. The library's main biography collection is near the back of the library, but look for "New Biographies" at the front of the library, on the "New" books shelves. Biographies in "Large Type" are located on the right hand side of the "Fiction" Room. Be sure to check the following nonfiction sections: 808's for guides on writing your own memoir and 920's for collective biographies and resources, such as:

  • Preserving family histories
  • Writing autobiographies
  • Origins of names
  • New York Times Obituaries' Index
  • Who's Who
  • First ladies, women's lives and world records

Look for new biographies in the section for new books near the front of the library - they come after the new fiction books. When searching the Polaris Catalog for most recent titles, use the "Sort by" menu and select "Publication date."

The following list highlights a few titles that are available at the library. Contact a Reference Librarian if you'd like more recommendations or need help obtaining a book.

  • Ultimate biography : inside the lives of the world's 250 most influential people. Call Number: 920.02 Ultimate. 250 of the most important, beloved, influential, notorious, or just plain fascinating people who have ever lived. Full of striking graphics and fun to read fact boxes, Ultimate Biography will keep you reading with its sharp, entertaining writing on subjects from Oprah Winfrey to Alexander the Great.
  • Legends : women who have changed the world through the eyes of great women writers. Call Number: 920.72 Legends.Through essays and photographs of famous women writers discusses the most influential women of the twentieth century, including Anne Frank, Zora Neale Hurston, Georgia O'Keefe, and Marilyn Monroe.
  • The international who's who. Call Number: REF 920 Internati 2004 Volumes for 1996-97, 1997-98, 1998-99 are also available in the Reference section of the library.
  • The originals : an a-z of fiction's real-life characters. Call Number: REF 809.927 Amos. Subject: Characters and characteristics in literature.
  • So you want to write : how to master the craft of fiction and the personal narrative . Call Number: 808.3 Piercy. What fiction and memoir writers really need to know is outlined by a bestselling author and a publisher. Topics include how to begin a piece by seducing the reader, how to create characters that embody the infinite contradictions of human behavior, and how to master the elements of plotting fiction.
  • Writing life stories . Call Number: 808 Roorbach. From drawing a map of a remembered neighborhood, to yelling in public as a method of capturing passion on paper, Roorbach offers innovative techniques of value to writers at all stages of their craft. Much more than teaching the rudiments of autobiography, this book will help writers see their own lives more clearly, while learning that real stories are often the best ones.
  • Ithaca Journal Obituary Index. Call Number: 920.09747. TCPL has indices for many years. They are available in the Local History sections of the library toward the back of the library or in the Cases on the West Wall. Ask a librarian at the Adult Reference desk if you need help.


Current magazines (within the past year) are found in the north reading area of the library. Older back issues (up to 3 years) are shelved in the green storage boxes nearby.

  • Current Biography. Monthly issues for the current year are available in library's periodical room. Annual bound yearbooks are available in the Reference Section. Call Number: REF 920.

Other Formats (Audiobooks, DVDs, CDs, microfilm and/or microfiche)

  • Use the Polaris online catalog to search by subject:
    Biographical films--videorecordings
    Biographical television programs

Internet Resources

This list provides links to a few reliable websites for authoritative biographical information.

African Diaspora Biography on the Internet
Columbia University Libraries' African Studies Department provides this list of African American biographical resources, including women writers, slave narratives, African American Inventors A-Z, specific individuals, as well as links to free online books and digital collections.
A & E (Arts & Entertainment) Television Networks provides this searchable website of over "250,000 of the greatest lives, past and present."

Internet Public Library: Biographies
IPL provides a comprehensive, annotated index of biography sites, organized alphabetically and by subject.

Notable People
Librarians' Index to the Internet gives us this categorical list of people worth knowing about.;action=show;searchtype=keywords

Open Directory project
General index of free, biography resources on the Web.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum provides history of rock and roll and the museum's inductees, covering music from early blues to current musical idols.

Contact Information

  • Adult Reference Services (607) 272-4556
  • Youth Reference Services: (607) 272-4557 x276
  • Submit your question via the web to Ask-A-Librarian
Page last modified Jul 12, 2013