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Tips for Finding Primary Sources   Tags: assignment, history, how to, primary sources, research, social sciences, tips  

Your best bets for finding primary sources from the library, plus step by step tips to save you time and get the sources you need.
Last Updated: Apr 26, 2016 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts
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Tips for Finding Primary Sources Open Access
by Kathryn Park - Last Updated Mar 30, 2016
Your best bets for finding primary sources that are open access, plus step by step tips to save you time and get the sources you need.
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GVRL Primary Sources

GVRL has eBooks with primary sources exclusively, as well as some with mainly secondary sources, but with primary sources included.

Search GVRL. Must be on campus or have a COM ID to access off campus.

Want more on GVRL? Try the How to Use GVRL eBooks Guide.

  • GVRL History eBooks
    The American Eras: Primary Sources and Voices of...series have multiple volumes and are exclusively primary sources.

    Daily Life through World History in Primary Documents and The Great Depression and New Deal are exclusively primary sources.

    American Indian Removal and the Trail to Wounded Knee has a primary sources section.
  • GVRL Law eBooks
    The Democratic Party, The Republican Party and The Great Depression and New Deal are exclusively primary sources.
  • GVRL Social Sciences eBooks
    Government, Politics, and Protest: Essential Primary Sources, Human and Civil Rights: Essential Primary Sources and Immigration and Multiculturalism: Essential Primary Sources have primary sources.

What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources are records created at the time of an event or experience, or as told by people who were present at the event such as those listed below:

  • diaries
  • letters
  • maps
  • photographs
  • oral histories
  • artifacts
  • works of literature
  • government documents

Watch this video for a quick overiew of primary sources and how to find them (2:50).

Databases with Primary Sources

The databases listed below have many or exclusively primary sources. Britannica Academic and MasterFile Premier have mainly secondary sources, but some primary sources can be found. Primary sources from our databases include maps, images, correspondence, journals, census records, archival films, newsreels and much more. 


Books & eBooks with Primary Sources

WorldCat searches our print books and eBooks, some of which are, or include, primary sources. There are a few things you can try to make it easier to pull up primary sources. Here's how:

  1. Historical Figures
    In Worldcat you can put au: in front of the historical figures name and search to see if we have anything written by them. These would be primary sources, as opposed to sources written about them.
    Example: Try au:Thomas Jefferson.

    You could also try use some of the terms in the list below, combined with the name of the historical figure.
    Example: Try papers of Thomas Jefferson.

  2. Historical Events
    For events try adding the name of the event and one of the terms below.
    Example: Try something like american revolution eyewitness or Dred Scott documents.

You can use the terms below with of or from with the name of an individual or event.

  • archives
  • autobiography
  • correspondence
  • documents
  • sources
  • eyewitness
  • first hand account
  • journals
  • narratives
  • oral history
  • papers
  • writings

Want more on WorldCat? Try the How to Use WorldCat Guide.


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Guides with Primary Sources


COM Library has Guides that include primary resources to make it easier for you to find for your subject.


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