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Biographical Sources: Biographical Sources

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "All History is Biography" This guide presents general biographical sources available at Alamance County Public Libraries.

Great Lives from History

"Great Lives" Series

May Memorial Library owns the following items in the Salem Press "Great Lives from History" series.  Each set contains four or five page articles on important historical figure which include information about the person's birth, early life, areas of achievement, life's work, and overall historical significance.

  • American Series
  • Ancient and Medieval Series
  • Ancient World (Prehistory to 476 C.E.)
  • British and Commonweath Series
  • Notorious Lives
  • Renaissance to 1900 Series
  • 17th, 18th, 19th, & 20th Century Great Lives

Finding Biographies Within the Library

Biographies and autobiographies are usually shelved within the library in a special section following the Dewey decimal system range of numbers.  They are arranged by the surname of the person being written about.  If this person is a monarch or ruler, then the biography is filed by the first name rather than the last name. 

At May Memorial Library, the autobiographies are marked with a yellow spine label.  Any biography or autobiography that begins with a J in the call number is intended primarily for children and is found in the Children's Room. 

There is also a special section of books in the Dewey Decimal system call number 920 that are known as collective biographies.  They include multiple biographical sketches in on books (for example: Lives of the Great Composers or Pioneers of Psychology)

Please ask at the Reference desk if you are unable to find information on the person you seek.  The reference desk at May Memorial Library maintains an index to people found in collective biographies owned by the library.

Online Biographical Sources


Salem History
The Salem History database is available via the library's webpage at here by entering a valid 14-digit library card number.  Salem History includes biographical information on thousands of historical figures from ancient times to the twentieth century.  It is especially useful for researching rulers, political figures, scientists, inventors, and important figures in arts and literature.  Many articles also contain information on important historical events and discoveries in science and commerce.  The content of the Salem History database comes from a variety of print biographical sources published by Salem Press under the title "Great Lives from History" that are owned by the library.

Contemporary Biographical Sources

          The following reference sets may be used to find biographies of more contemporary individuals who are currently in the news such as politicians, entertainers, athletes, etc.  Many of these sets are updated more than once per year.

Did You Know?

The most famous individuals associated with Alamance County include:

Professional baseball player Tom Zachary was born in Graham and played in the major leagues for almost 20 years

Pulitizer prize-winning journalist Edwin M. Yoder was born in Mebane and has a local elementary school named in his honor

New-York Times Bestselling novelist Sharyn McCrumb graduated from the Williams High School Class of 1966

Scientific Biography

Reference sets at May Memorial Library that include information on the lives of notable scientists and inventors are:

R 609.22 INV  Inventors & Inventions

R 920  Notable 20th Century Scientists

North Carolina Biography

Famous North Carolinians may be found in the following reference sets:

R 920.0756 DIC
Dictionary of North Carolina Biography / edited by William S. Powell

R 920 RAV
Notable North Carolina women / by Jennifer Ravi

R 920 NOR
The North Carolina century : Tar Heels who made a difference, 1900-2000 / Howard E. Covington Jr. and Marion A. Ellis, coeditors

R 920.0756 BRO
Twentieth century Tar Heels / Jan Broadfoot

Local Notables

Some biographical material on local notables may be found in a newspaper clipping file found in  the Local History Room at May Memorial Library.  The clipping file contains information on civic leaders, industrialists, elected officials, local athletes, etc.

There are also some collective biographies of local civic leaders of the past in the Local History Room as well.  They are:

R 920.0756 BUI  Builders of Alamance

R 920.0756 MEN  Men of Affairs in the Public-Industrial Life of Burlington and North Carolina

Alamance County Public Libraries

Alamance County Public Libraries provide free and open access to lifelong learning, resources for everyday living, and reading for pleasure in a welcoming environment.  Our collections, services and programs enhance the quality of life for individuals, families, and communities. Contact the Library webmaster.

Alamance County Public Libraries operates as a Department of Alamance County Government.  Visit the Alamance County Website at