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This guide will show you how to find autobiographical and biographical information for writing autobiographical/biographical essays and memoirs.

Useful Web Sites

Here are some useful web sites containing biographical information on famous people. To find information on the web on a specific person try a google search but make sure to apply the web site evaluation criteria on the left panel to ensure the information is valid and credible.

American Memory Project
This site contains thousands of materials related to biography, including collections such as American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-; and California: First-Person Narratives, Books.
This is a good source for true stories about famous people.

Cyndi’s List: Biographies
Cyndi's list contains more than 200 biographical resources are available in this guide which contains information from many genealogical resources on the internet.

Infoplease Biography Site
This is a free, authoritative, reference site that provides biographies of famous people.

The Time 100
Time 100 is an annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, as assembled by Time. It was first published in 1999. This link is for 2020. Search Google for the other years.

Evaluating Web Sites

Because anyone can create a web page it is important to to distiguish reliable information from bad information or misinformation on the web.

The author should be held to the same degree of credentials and authority that one would expect from something published in a reputable print resource (book, journal article, reputable newspaper, etc.).

Here are five simple criteria for evaluating information on the internet:

  • Authority - What are the author's credentials? Is the author a well-known scholar in the field? Is the author's contact information provided (phone, email, etc.? Is the author affiliated with an educational institution or credible organization? Who is responsible for the domain? Pages originating from an educational institution (.edu) or the government (.gov) are reliable. Personal pages or pages originating from .net or .com are not necessarily bad but you should be more wary and spend time verifying the information.
  • Accuracy - is the information factual? Can the information be verified through other sources? Does the information seem credible? Is the web page free of grammatical and spelling errors?
  • Purpose and Coverage - What is the purpose of the information? Does the page exist to provide information or to sell a point of view? What is the tone of the page? Is it ironic? Does it ridicule? Is the information comprehensive? Is it geared toward a particular audience?
  • Bias - is the page free of bias? Does it present an objective view of the topic? Is the language biased in any way? Do you perceive a conflict of interest in terms of the content or presentation of the topic?
  • Date - how old is the information presented? When was the page last updated? Is there any indication about the currency of the information? Are the links on the page valid?

Fact Check Like a Professional

Professional journalists and other fact checkers use the concept of lateral thinking. The Four Movements, or SIFT, spell out what to do:

The SIFT Method was developed by Mike Caulfield. An in-depth description with exercises can be found on his blog, Hapgood.