Finding Primary Sources

Printer Friendly Version

Primary sources are original accounts or records of historical events. These sources are from the time period involved, and they have not been filtered through interpretation. Primary sources include:

  • Diaries, journals, speeches, interviews, letters
  • Memoirs and autobiographies
  • Government records, such as birth, death and marriage certificates, census records, licenses, patents, trial transcripts, etc.
  • Records of organizations, i.e., minutes, reports or correspondence
  • Original Documents (e.g. family Bible records)
  • Photographs, documentaries, sound recordings of actual events
  • Survey Research such as market surveys and public opinion polls

Note: Newspaper, magazine and journal articles and books written at the time about a particular event are often considered primary sources. These accounts were usually written by journalists or other observers at the time of the event. Materials that are written later and/or provide historical analysis are considered secondary sources.

Finding Articles
To find articles on a specific topic, author or book, use the DATABASES. You can access the LNDL databases from anywhere through the LNDL homepage at You must have a current library barcode to access databases from off campus. Your barcode is on your ID. (It’s the number that begins with 22425. . . .)

Newspaper Accounts/Periodicals
American Periodical Series (1740-1900)
New York Times Historic (1851-1998)
The Civil War: A Newspaper Perspective (1860-1865)
The Pennsylvania Gazette (1728-1800)
Times (London) (1785 - 1985)

Books Available at the Library
Use the library catalog on the library's web site at Terms to try in looking for primary sources (use a subject and/or keyword search):

Personal narratives
History sources
History documents.

Some sources that include United States Documents are:
Annals of America E173 .A793 v. 1-21
Public Papers of the Presidents J80 .A283
Historic Documents of … Reference E839.5H57 1972-73;1975-2002

Archives of Maryland F176.A67 v. 1-70

Other Useful Databases
Early English Books Online (1475-1700) Digital library of books printed in English from 1475-1700.
Eighteenth Century Collections Online Works published in Great Britain and its dependencies from 1701-1800.
Digital National Security Archive (DSNA) Declassified government documents from the National Security Archive on U.S. foreign and military policy since 1945
In the First Person In-depth index of more than 3,350 collections of personal narratives in English from around the world
Reader's Guide Retrospective Citations to popular American journal and magazine articles from 1890-1982.

Web Sites
The Internet has become a great source of primary materials. Select a search engine or directory such as Google ( or Yahoo ( and type in your topic and primary sources or one of the other terms listed above.

Another great search directory is: Librarian's Index to the Internet (

Selected Web Sites for Primary Materials/Digital Collections

Note: You do need to be careful to check the reliability of Internet sources. For more information, refer to the library's guide at

"Library Research Using Primary Sources." University of California, Berkeley: Copyright 1998-2002. Accessed October 1, 2003. <>

"Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Sources." University Libraries, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland. Updated October 1, 2003. Accessed October 1, 2003. <>

For help on a specific topic or research question, please call the Reference
Desk (410-617-6802)