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Family history and genealogy

The potential of the biographical dictionary for family history and genealogy is obvious but the extent to which they can assist depends upon the type of dictionary involved. The more general types of dictionaries usually restrict themselves to the great and the good; the Dictionary of National Biography and Who’s Who are cases in point. Consequently, unless you happen to have a famous ancestor, these types of dictionaries have a limited relevance for those researching the lives of ordinary people.

Biographical dictionaries which confine themselves to professions or occupations usually embrace a wider cross-section of people than is the case with the general dictionaries. Thus, although there may be some overlap, a biographical dictionary of Artists or Musicians for instance, will be likely to include many people who failed to make it into the general dictionaries. The extent to which this is the case will depend of course on the research invested in the project by the compiler of the dictionary. How a profession or occupation is defined will also determine its range of potential relevance beyond that immediately obvious. For instance, Scoop: a biographical dictionary of British and Irish journalists covers everyone from artist illustrators to war correspondents and is thus relevant to a wider range of people than would be the case if a narrower definition of what constitutes a journalist were used. Other professions or occupations, such as Soldiers or Physicians for instance, are less capable of accommodating a wider interpretation of what they include and are consequently more narrow in their application.

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