Gale's Biography and Genealogy Master Index

By Cheeseman, Janet | Information Today, September 1993 | Go to article overview

Gale's Biography and Genealogy Master Index


Cheeseman, Janet, Information Today


After my initial encounter with Gale's Biography and Genealogy Master Index on CD-ROM, I decided to reacquaint myself with the print version.

The BGMI, first published in 1981, now comprises twelve supplements in addition to its eight base volumes and occupies nearly four feet of shelf space. The set indexes over 8.8 million biographical sketches in over 675 biographical reference sources, including biographical dictionaries and who's whos, subject encyclopedias, volumes of literary criticism, and biographical indexes. The sources indexed by BGMI cover living and deceased individuals from many fields of activities and various parts of the world.

Since the CD-ROM mirrors its print counterpart, I found that reading "Editorial Practices" in the introduction to the print version was very helpful. When using BGMI in either version, it is important to remember that all names appear as they are listed in the source books indexed. With a file of millions of names, the editors could not attempt to determine whether names with similar spellings and dates referred to the same person. As a result, several listings for an individual often occur. In most cases, the user can readily discern if consecutive citations refer to the same individual or not.

The minimum configuration to run die single user version of BGMI is a personal computer with: IBM XT, AT, PS/2, or compatible (80286 or faster processor recommended); MS-DOS or PC-DOS 3.1 or higher; MS-DOS CD-ROM Extensions (MSCDEX) version 2.0 or higher; 640K bytes of RAM; 1 megabyte of free space; monochrome, CGA, EGA, or VGA monitor; ISO 9660-compatible CD-ROM drive with cables and interface card; and parallel or serial printer port for printing. Additional hard disk or floppy disk space is required for temporary storage of information downloaded or saved. The recommendation for a faster processor is well founded. On my 286SX, Extended Search was excruciatingly slow and in some cases impossible.

Installation is a breeze, and one can zip through the clearly written instructions in minutes. The software that runs BGMI should be installed on a hard disk with at least one megabyte of available space. The user can opt to save text on floppy disk, hard disk or both; to allow printing to text; and to require a password to exit the program.

The collection tagging program can be run at the end of the installation or at any other time from the operating system. The user can enter a customized message (up to 70 characters) to select the default message, "Available in this library." Since BGMI covers over 675 source publications in more than 2,000 volumes and editions, tagging all titles is a time-consuming process. However, the procedure is so easy that it can he assigned to support staff or be done intermittently as time permits.

Two methods are available for searching BGMI - A menu driven search by name or an extended search option that allows searching for names including titles, prefixes, and suffixes), birth and death years, title of a source publication, and sources with portraits of the person.

Search by name retrieves a list of all the names in alphabetical order by last name, first name, and middle initial. As the searcher enters the characters of a name, the system scrolls through the list, so that the term is revealed before the search is executed. When a name is selected, a list of source publications appears in alphabetical order, then in ascending chronological order. When viewing the citation screen for the name, the user can select "N" or "P" to move to the entry for the next or previous name in the list. This is an important time-saving feature, for as noted above, names appear in BGMI exactly as they are listed in the source books. For example, when searching for MALCOLM X, the following terms appear: MALCOLM X, MALCOLM X (1924?- 1965), MALCOLM X (1925-1965), MALCOLM X (D 1965).

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