Skip to Main Content

Research: Find Information: Primary Sources

What is a Primary Source?

Primary Sources are:

  • Original documents that are created or experienced concurrently (at the same time) with the event being researched.
  • First hand observations or contemporary accounts of the event.
  • Present a viewpoint of the time.

Examples: Interviews, news footage, data sets, original research, speeches, diaries, letters, creative works, photographs

Database: Gale Primary Sources

Gale Primary Sources 

  • Uncover primary source documents in the 19th Century U.S. Newspapers archive
  • Access millions of pages of content spanning many centuries and geographic regions
  • Explore a wide range of content including monographs, manuscripts, newspapers, photographs, maps, and more

Database: HarpWeek

Access to full-text and images from Harper's Weekly magazine. Contains primary research material for the study of the American Civil War. Coverage: American Civil War period, 1857-1865.


What is a Secondary Source?

Secondary Sources:

  • Works that analyze, assess, or interpret a historical event, an era, or a phenomenon

  • Present an interpretation of information, or offer a review or critique and are usually written well after an event. Often using or referring to primary sources.

Examples of Secondary Sources:  Research studies, literary criticism, book reviews, biographies, textbooks

Tertiary Sources:

  • Identify, locate, and synthesize primary AND secondary sources.

  • Might be reference works, collections of lists of primary and secondary sources, or finding tools for sources.

Examples of Tertiary Sources: Encyclopedias, bibliographies, dictionaries, manuals, textbooks, fact books

Primary Source Keywords

Use any of these keywords, in combination with topic words or names, to search for primary sources in the library catalog.

  • Documentary history
  • Memoirs
  • Autobiography
  • Diaries
  • Letters
  • Pamphlets
  • Ephemera
  • Speeches
  • Eyewitness
  • Correspondence
  • Interviews
  • Personal Narratives


Where to locate Primary content

Think about what types of records or documents would have been created at the time period surrounding events and issues related to your topic? 

Here are some guiding questions (primary sources appear in parentheses): 

  • What was life/society like at the time?  (magazines, chronicles, newspapers, artworks)
  • What were the experience, beliefs, or priorities of relevant individuals / groups / organizations at the time? (autobiographies, interviews, diaries, letters, advertisements, manifestos)
  • What was the government attitude? What was the government of the day saying? (proclamations, monuments, records of debates, legislation, law codes)
  • How many people were involved in or affected by this issue / event? (statistics, official records, estimates based on material culture or remains)
  • What were people being told, what did they communicate? (newspapers, artworks, photographs, letters, secret communications)
  • What did things look like? (artwork, photographs, guide books for tourists, illustrations, postcards)

Source: LMU: William H Hannon Library

Coulter Library, Onondaga Community College, Syracuse, NY