LEGALST 178: American Legal & Constitutional History


Overview of Researching Biographies

Biographical information about famous people, including state and federal judges, is plentiful both on the Web and in print.  In either format, you may want to consult both primary sources and secondary sources. Documents such as letters or autobiographies are primary sources written by the person.  Material written by other authors about the person are secondary sources.  Examples include book biographies, essays, commentaries, chronologies, and news stories.  Secondary sources frequently point to primary sources. 

As you start your research on a famous person in history, consider some of the following questions to help focus your search.

  • Do you need a list of past judges by court or by region?
  • Is the person living or deceased?
  • What time period of the person’s life is of greatest interest?
  • What do you know now about the person?
  • Do you want an autobiography in the person’s own words? Are you seeking memoirs, letters, autobiographical essays or books?
  • Why is the person famous? Did he/she contribute to a major legal case?
  • Are the person’s ethnic background, institutional affiliations, nationality, gender or other factors important?
  • How widely known is the judge? Is he/she known to the general public?
  • Do you need to place the person within a cultural or historical context?
  • Do you need to discover the person’s birth or death date of find other chronological data?
  • Are you seeking short anecdotes that will perk your readers’ or audience’s interest?

Click on the Tabs above in this Guide to find the following types of information:

Book biographies and autobiographies.  Books cover a person's life in depth, although they may focus on a particular period or accomplishment.  Books also provide excellent reference lists for further research. Click on the Books tab to find several catalogs for searching books.

Archives.  UC Berkeley has a wealth of archival information both within the general collections and at the Bancroft Library.  Be sure to peruse both the Online Archive of California and the Regional Oral History Office for transcripts, recordings, letters and more.  Click on Archives for more information on archives at UC Berkeley.

Judicial Cases.  If a judge is known for his or her decision on a particular case, review the case to discover what the judge wrote and decided. Case law databases, such as Lexis,  allow you to search by case and by judge,  Discover cases by clicking the Cases tab above.

Articles. In addition to book biographies about a person, academic and law review journal articles may analyze a judical decision, consider the historical impact of a judge or a case, and place a judge or way of thinking in historical context.  Click the Articles tab to discover several scholarly and legal sources for articles.

Government documents.  The Internet has made large amounts of government documents, both current and historical, available online.  Searching can be challenging, however.  Check the Library's guides to government documents for sites most helpful to your research.

Databases.  News databases, such as ProQuest Historical Newspapers, provide reports from the past and fill in details of the period in which a judge lived. Ancestry Library will turn up personal biographical data showing family influences on a judge's life.  Click on News  for stories from the past, or Databases to find family data about a judge.

Last Update: February 04, 2014 14:29 | Tagged with: constitution legal_history American_legal_history legal studies