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ENGL 15: Encomium Research Guide

Welcome to the library guide for the Encomium Paper in Professor Tara Beecham's ENGL 15 class at Penn State Berks!

Our Research Journey

a woman facing a pathway through the woodsWelcome!  We hope this site will provide a pathway to discovering the life and times of a person who inspired you by following their inner voice.

To research your person, please follow the steps below.  You may not find sources about your person in all of the resources listed below--and that is OK.  Aim to find at least 3-7 good sources that reflect the text's guidelines for evaluating quality sources  Please cite in MLA format.

Please also download the Research Log below which will help you record and interpret your findings.

Step 1: Do Background Research

a family posing for a photo, with various generations representedInterviewing Family Members--if you're researching a person in your family, you can interview another family member about that person.  You can count one family interview as a source for your paper.  Please interview someone as your first step if possible, because the information you obtain will be hugely helpful when you search in Ancestry and elsewhere.  Please download the handout below to record your interview.


Special Note: If your subject was famous, you might be able to find them in one of these biographical databases instead of conducting an interview.

Step 2: Search for Your Person in Genealogy Databases

Whether your person is famous or not, you may be able to find genealogical information about them.  Ancestry Library Edition is one of the most powerful search tools we have available, and you can access it through the link below.  Before kicking off your search, please watch the video created for our class, Ancestry Library Edition: A Flash Tutorial.

an ancestry library logovideo projectorTutorials

Step 3: Power Search with Google

a laptop open to Google, sitting on a picnic table in the woods.  A cell phone lies next to it.Tips

  • Google your person's name with bits of identifying information about them that can narrow down your search. For example, let's say you're searching for Mary Ann Russell.  You know she was lived 1875-1935 and grew up in Philadelphia.  Try several different search statements:

--Mary Ann Russell 1875

--Mary Ann Russell 1935

--Mary Russell Philadelphia 1875

  • Try phrase searching for names to eliminate irrelevant sources.  Put the name in quotation marks.  For example, if you type in Bill Gates but keeping getting sources about Bill Smith or Henry Gates, clump the names together in your search by typing in "Bill Gates".  That will only find sources that have the two names sitting right next to each other.
  • Type in variations of the person's name if you don't find enough information in your first search.  For example, let's say you are searching for Franklin Delano Roosevelt but don't find anything.  You could search instead for Franklin D. Roosevelt, President Roosevelt, FDR, or one of his nicknames like Houdini in the White House, King Franklin, etc.
  • Combine their name with keywords like biography, profile, family tree, genealogy, heritage, ancestor, obituary.  For example, typing in Taylor Swift family tree.
  • Try some of the special parts of Google listed below.

video projectorTutorials

Step 4: Search Historic Newspapers

an open newspaperTips for Searching Newspapers:

  • Search for the person's name and keywords like biography, profile, interview, obituary.
  • Search for the person's name along with their occupation, personal events, accomplishments.
  • Try searching by placing the person's name in quotation marks.
  • Limit your search by publication date to the years of the person's life.
  • Remember to search for variants.of the person's name.
  • Look for the person's name and the name of their spouse at the same time.
  • If your person is female, remember to try her maiden and married names.

International and National News

These sources cover famous people, political leaders, religious leaders, authors.

State and Local News

These papers are useful to searching family members, friends, and local leaders.

Guides to Newspapers

Step 5: Find Genealogical Resources for Your Person's Specific State, Country, or Nationality

These are a few more resources that might have relevant info about your person.  Many of these are examples from Pennsylvania.  You can find similar resources for other countries or states through Google.  One way of searching for these resources is including the term libguide (denotes a library guide).  Example: Alabama genealogy libguide


Other States and Countries

Step 6: Research the Historical Background of Your Person's Life

a vintage Civil War canon next to a wooden fenceThese links can help you find credible sources about the time period your person lived in. 

You will probably not find information about your specific person in the resources below. However, a source about the time period can still count as a source for your encomium.

Rather search these resources for sources about the big events that happened during your person's life, their occupation, the places they lived, or cultural themes during their lives. 


  • Let's pretend your selected person is a Civil War veteran who served in the 20th Volunteer Division from Pennsylvania.  You could search for the 20th Volunteer Division on Google and the library resources below.  You could find out what battles they fought in and include that information in your paper.
  • Let's pretend your selected person was a coal miner in the early 1900s.  You could look for articles, books, and web sites about the coal industry in the early 1900s.  When you write your encomium, you can describe what it must have been like for your person to have worked in the coal industry even though the sources don't mention your specific person.
  • Let's pretend your selected person lived in the town of Hamburg in Berks County.  You could find a source about the history of Hamburg.  Use that source to write a couple of sentences about Hamburg to let readers know a bit about your person's home town.
  • Let's pretend your selected person grew up in the 1920s.  We could look for articles, books, or web sites about the 1920s to find out what it must have been like to be a child in that time period.  You could include a background paragraph in your paper talking about the music, fashions, sports, and entertainment that was popular when your person grew up.

International and National Resources

State and Local Resources