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Find Primary Sources

Learn why you use primary sources and how to find them


What is a Primary Source?

Primary sources are original materials that were created firsthand; they have not been run through the filter of interpretation.

Because primary sources are the documents or artifacts closest to the topic of investigation, they are a great way to gain insight into and an understanding of an event or topic. Often they are created during the time period that is being studied but they can also be produced later by eyewitnesses or participants.

You may find primary sources in their original format (usually in an archive) or reproduced in a variety of ways: books, microfilm, digital, etc.

primary source image

Examples are:

  • Original Research (reported in journals & dissertations)
  • Diaries
  • Interviews (legal proceedings, personal, telephone, email)
  • Letters
  • Original Documents (i.e. birth certificate or a trial transcript)
  • Patents
  • Photographs
  • Proceedings of Meetings, Conferences and Symposia
  • Survey Research (such as market surveys and public opinion polls)
  • Works of Literature
  • Laws (constitutions, statutes, regulations, and court cases)

Key Words to Use for Finding Primary Sources

Add these words to the end of your search for resources on any topic to focus your search specifically on primary sources:

  • sources
  • correspondence
  • personal narratives
  • photographs
  • diaries


For example: american revolution sources

Use Books to Find Primary Sources

You can use the library catalog to search for books that contain primary sources.

Remember to add the words above to the end of your search to find primary sources. For example, slavery personal narratives.

Use Databases to Find Primary Sources

The MJC Library has several databases that are filled with primary sources. Be sure to scroll down once you get to the Articles & Databases page so that you can see the Primary Sources databases.

View this video below to see a demonstration of how you find our primary source databases, and how you use the database entitled, African American Experience, to find primary sources.


Use the Web to Find Primary Sources

Use these credible Web sites to find primary sources: