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History: Finding Primary Sources

Primary sources are original documents or artifacts created during the time period being studied. They often include firsthand or eyewitness accounts or have an inside view of a particular event.

Original Documents include advertisements, artwork, autobiographies, diaries, government documents (bills, laws, congressional hearings, etc.), interviews, letters, newspaper articles, official records, oral histories, photographs, posters, raw research data, speeches, etc.

Searching the SU Library Catalog

Use better keywords! These terms can help you find primary sources:

  • sources, archives, archival sources
  • personal narratives, diaries, memoirs, autobiographies
  • letters, correspondence
  • interviews
  • pamphlets
  • maps
  • speeches

Example: "civil war" memoir​​

Digital Archives

Government Documents

Primary Source Images

Primary Source Research Guides

These guides from other universities contain dozens of links to primary source materials. You will not have access to everything.


Follow these steps to begin searching for primary sources in WorldCat:

  • Enter your topic word(s) in the first search box.
  • Enter an appropriate keyword such as "sources" or "diaries" in the second box.
  • Try changing the second drop-down box to "Identifier; Subject" to see if this improves your results.

Depending on what limits you choose, you may retrieve a wide range of results, including archival collections, books, ebooks, and databases at other institutions to which SU may not have access. However, the results may also include freely available websites, which may be of particular interest.

Just follow the links in the catalog records to find the material you are interested in. If you locate a book, journal, or microfilmed item in WorldCat that SU does not hold, do not hesitate to request it through interlibrary loan.

Primary Sources Online

As always, use discretion before relying on websites. Verify that the source is what it says it is by searching for the title elsewhere. When in doubt: check with your professor. 

Google Advanced Search: Primary Sources