Women Writing Women’s Lives
Useful Internet Resources for US and UK Biographers

Biographical Resources for the United States, contributed by the late Barbara F. McManus, The College of New Rochelle

Biographers International Organization (BIO) is an Internet-based professional association founded in 2010. Its mission is representing the practical interests of, and fostering community among, serious biographers, whether aspiring or already-published. The membership fee is reasonable and includes a subscription to The Biographer’s Craft, an online monthly, as well as such benefits as a free personal web page, access to a growing list of resources for biographers, and a membership directory that is searchable by ZIP Code.

The Women’s Life Writing Network: WLN’s aims are to foster community, collaboration, research, and debate among women’s life writing scholars and practitioners, provide lists of resources, and raise awareness of women’s contributions to the field of life writing.

Citing Internet Sources
Citations of Internet sources must include two additional items besides the usual required information — the URL (web address) of the webpage you are citing and the date when you consulted this webpage (since webpages may change location or content). The author and date when the webpage was created or revised can usually be found at the bottom of the webpage; if not, the date of creation can be retrieved by clicking on File and the Properties in Internet Explorer, or on View and then Page Info in Firefox/Mozilla/Netscape. Purdue’s Online Writing Lab (OWL) summarizes how to cite Internet sources according to various citation styles. The book Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace, by Elizabeth Shown Mills (2nd ed, 2009) is an exhaustive compendium explaining in detail how to cite all types of genealogical evidence.

This is an excellent free genealogy site with many resources. Those I have found most useful are the following:

  • U.S. Town/County Database, which will find the county in which a town is located and will provide links to online resources for that county.
  • Charts and Forms: printable forms on which you can record various types of information, such as census forms, family trees, source summaries, etc.
  • Guide to Tracing Family Trees, with many how-to essays (including Internet links) on finding and interpreting genealogical information.

This is also a free genealogy site provided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including federal censuses, some state censuses, vital records, and many records from other countries as well.

This is a very useful subscription genealogical website. The cost is not insignificant, but the site offers an introductory year at a substantial savings. I have personally found the US membership very worthwhile because of the quantity of historical records that can be searched online, including the Social Security Death Index, images of the actual records—every publicly available US census, many military records including draft registrations, many city directories, historical newspapers, newspaper birth marriage and death announcements, passenger lists for major ports (especially New York and Boston) including photos of the ships, with new collections added regularly. Furthermore, all records found can be efficiently saved by creating a family tree and linking the records to the appropriate name. A world deluxe membership also gives access to many other materials, including census records from Canada and the UK, passenger lists, etc.

Ellis Island
This site provides searchable immigration records from Ellis Island/Port of New York; the service is free but registration is required. The website also includes information and photos of the history of Ellis Island, the immigrant experience, and other useful genealogy resources.

One-Step Portal for On-Line Genealogy, created by Stephen P. Morse, enables easy searching of many online genealogy sites, including those listed above; this page explains how to use the one-step process.

National Archives and Records Administration
If you wish to consult records in person rather than online, a good place to start is the NARA’s Genealogy Page. From here you can access information about the Northeast Regional Center in New York City and researching census records. The Archival Research Catalog indexes all the NARA holdings, and the Access to Archival Databases (AAD) contains selected databases that can be accessed online.

Selected Sites with Interesting Online Archival Materials:

Useful Compendia

Biographical Resources for Britain, contributed by Sally Mitchell, Temple University

British National Archives
The Historical Manuscripts Commission and the Public Records Office are now combined as the National Archives, and the separate website/catalogues that used to exist are now reached from this more complicated “user friendly” page which (furthermore) gets reorganized with different categories every so often. If you’re not familiar with the Public Record Office, start with the Research, Education, etc. pull-down, where you can locate dozens of research guides ranging from “Art: Sources for the History of Fine Art and Artists” and “Assizes (English), Key to Criminal Trials, 1559-1971” to “War Crimes of the Second World War” and “Women’s Military Services, First World War.” These guides tell you how to find and use material in the Public Record Office at Kew and provide information about other resources and bibliographies. The more general “Family History” guides are also very helpful for biographical research. You can now print all of these guides (free) from your computer. Also check the Shop Online pull-down for many specialist books with sources of information about people, areas, occupations, etc.

The Search the Archives pull-down begins with “How to Search the Archives Online” which (now) should always be checked, since resources and instructions change so frequently. Online searches linked from this page include the National Registry of Archives catalogue that used to be in the books at Chancery Lane and provides a useful (but very incomplete) location register of letters, papers, and archives which is searchable by personal name, family name, and corporate name; many US repositories as well as UK sources are included. The A2A database contains (as yet incomplete) catalogues of local archives, the India Office, county record offices, and so forth. (The National Registry and A2A have some duplications but are largely different — and many sources, especially in academic libraries, are not covered.) “The Catalogue” takes you to the online catalogue of material held by the Public Record Office at Kew (one of the most confusing catalogues in the world—so you can save a day or two of your time in London by reading all the guides and help screens and figuring it out before you go). The Census Records link now takes you to outside sources that allow you to do a simple name search of census records from 1841-1911. To get real information, however, you have to print images of the records by buying credits (with a credit card) which can be used only within a limited time: assemble all the information you need so that you can finish your work in a few sessions. ““Documents Online” holds scanned images that include many wills which predate 1858 and are therefore not on file at the Probate Search Room, as well as some military records and other selected documents. Again, a basic name search is free and a small fee (payable by credit card) allows you to download the scanned image.

Complete 1881 Census
The most useful single resource to own for Victorian women and their friends and neighbors, is the complete 1881 Census of England, Scotland, Wales, Channel Islands, Isle of Man, and Royal Navy (but not the Army abroad or Ireland) which is searchable online at UK Census Online. Once you’ve located the person you’re interested in, you have information about age (or at least the age reported to the census taker), occupation, place of birth, and other residents in the household (including servants and visitors who were there on census day). You can also click a tab for “neighbors” and see who else is living on the same street.

Probate Search Room
Wills since 1858, formerly at Somerset House, are now at First Avenue House, 42-49 High Holborn, London WC1V 6NP. The index volumes are arranged by date of probate (not date of death); sometimes this can be several years after a death. Once you find the person you’re looking for, you fill out a form and take the volume to the service desk. A copy of the will can be picked up later or sent by post. The charge when I was there in October 2005 was £5 (cash or UK cheque only; no charge cards). The website provides information about obtaining wills by post without visiting London.

This website provides information on Researching your family history using the General Register Office and explains how to find and order copies of vital records.

Genealogical Sites:

  • Free BMD (Birth/Marriage/Death) makes available the indexes to the birth, marriage and death records since 1837 (the heavy volumes at the Family Records Centre which are cumulated quarterly and such a chore to search)—it’s a volunteer transcription, and neither complete nor completely accurate, but the first fast place to look for a missing date you need.
  • GENUKI, a family history and genealogy site for the UK and Ireland with links to a large number of useful pages including calendars, directories of cemeteries, and many other things.
  • Cyndi’s List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet is the most exhaustive directory of sites useful for genealogy, constantly updated, and organized so one can find additional lists of maps, or directories of military records associations, or information in more than 100 other categories. Especially useful are links to hobbyists who have scanned and uploaded old guidebooks and directories.

Maps and Directories:

  • The London Topographical Society sells five different A-Z’s of historical London in addition to other maps, plans, and views.
  • Alan Godfrey Maps has a large range of reproductions of old ordnance survey maps, including series from London at several dates
  • Historical Directories is an online digital library of local and trade directories for England and Wales from 1750 to 1919. (They load very slowly: you want the fastest computer and Internet connection you can find.)

Local and County Record Offices
You can search for links to many UK local and county record offices, which often have, files of newspapers, local directories, property records, and (most important) papers, records, letters and so forth from estates, schools, attics, solicitors’ offices, banks, local institutions – an erratic collection of material given (often) by heirs who don’t know what else to do with it. Some (not all by any means) of this material is indexed in the National Archives’ A2A database. Local record offices generally also have a helpful archivist who may answer queries by mail or e-mail.

Institute of Historical Research (London)
Located in the University of London complex along Malet Street behind the British Museum, the Institute of Historical Research is open to visiting scholars if your university holds a membership (ask in the history department) or if you join the American Friends of the IHR. In addition to seminars and talks and a computer room where you can check e-mail and use online databases (get a guest password at the main desk when you go in), the library’s Local Studies Room has a very large collection of directories, the Survey of London volumes, the Victoria County Histories, and similar resources on open shelves. A different room has dozens of biographically useful resources: Crockford’s and other clergy lists, law directories, alumni registers from many public schools and universities, and so forth, also on open shelves.


Your Own Library
Both WorldCat and RLG Union Catalog have an advanced search for manuscript material only — these two have many of the same items, but each usually lists some things that are not on the other. The National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections does the same search when it’s working. The Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing (SHARP) lists archives related to the book trades.

History at Home: A Guide to Genealogy.

This article provides a good overview of how to get started with genealogical research.  The link was provided by students in an after school program who were using this page in a family tree project.  Thank you!


Kate Culkin (Web Manager)
August 2016