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Primary Sources: Finding Primary Sources

Tips on how to identify, access, and use primary source materials.

Examples of Primary Sources

  • advertisements
  • artifacts (clothing, currency, furniture, jewelry, musical instruments, pottery, textiles, weapons, etc.)
  • autobiographies
  • buildings/architectural landmarks
  • census records
  • charters
  • charts/graphs
  • correspondence
  • diaries/journals
  • dissertations
  • documentary film/video
  • drawings/cartoons
  • edicts
  • fiction/novels
  • government documents (official text of laws, investigative reports, legislative hearings, etc.)
  • immigration records
  • inscriptions
  • interviews
  • ledgers/financial documents
  • legal documents/court records
  • letters
  • maps
  • manuscripts
  • memoirs
  • music scores
  • news film footage
  • newspaper reports (firsthand)
  • official records
  • oral histories
  • paintings
  • pamphlets
  • personal narratives
  • photographs
  • plays
  • poetry
  • religious texts
  • research data
  • sheet music
  • shipsʻ logs
  • sound recordings (music or spoken word)
  • speeches
  • tablets

How to Find Primary Sources

1. Find secondary sources first

  • Review encyclopedia entries on your topic to find useful keywords, mentions of names, references to primary sources, images, etc.
  • Use the Library Catalog to find books and articles on your topic.

2. Use secondary sources to locate primary sources.

  • Do your secondary sources contain any primary source materials?
  • Are there clues in your secondary sources about primary sources that exist on your topic, such as the titles of documents?
  • Do the reference lists (bibliographies) from your secondary sources contain information on primary source materials?

3. Search the library catalog for primary sources.

  • Search for keywords that describe your topic plus one of the words from the list of primary source subject headings and source times from the list on this page. For example, try Abraham Lincoln" \correspondence.

4. Google it.

  • Try a Google search using your topic plus one of the words on the primary source examples list on this page. For example, try a search for:  Mahatma Gandhi letters.

5. Search individual repositories of primary source materials. There are some listed on this page. A librarian can help you find others. 

Primary Sources on the Web

Windward Community College Library • 45-720 Keaʻahala Rd. • Kāneʻohe, HI 96744
Content: Creative Commons License Windward Community College Library
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