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Finding Primary Sources

Learn to distinguish between primary and secondary sources; learn strategies for finding primary sources.


The purpose of this guide is to help students to identify, locate, and use primary sources in their research.  Please explore using the tabs above to find information!

What are primary sources?

Primary sources are documents created during the period that is being studied; the information are firsthand accounts that were documented or recorded by people who themselves took part in, or witnessed, the events; it has not been published anywhere else or put into context, interpreted, filtered, condensed or evaluated by anyone else.



Church Records
Letters and diaries
Memoirs and autobiographies
Oral History
Personal accounts
Professors' Lectures

Public Records (censuses, birth and death registers)
Visual Materials: photographs and videos
Newspaper articles written by people at the scene of an event
Original artwork etc...

Primary sources are not books or journal articles that provide secondary analysis, or describe something that happened somewhere else.


There are three types of sources:

Primary Sources: are original materials that contain direct evidence, first-hand testimony, or an eyewitness account of a topic or event that you are studying.  Please refer to the middle column on this page for more information and examples

Secondary Sources: are scholarly books and articles that use primary resources to solve research problems. For example: a biography on the World Wars, scholarly books and articles.

Tertiary Sources: Encylopedias, indexes, textbooks, and other reference sources that "report" on secondary sources. They provide summaries of or introduction of the topic.  Usually they do provide a list (bibliography) or additional primary and secondary sources!

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