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Tips for Finding Primary Sources

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.

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:


works of literature
government documents
oral histories


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

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.

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


 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:

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.

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.U

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

Guides with Primary Sources


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