Finding Primary Sources
How Do I page will help you understand what a primary source is, why using primary resources are
beneficial to your research, how you can tell if something is a primary source and where you can
find primary sources.
What is a primary source?
Primary sources are original artifacts or documents. They offer contemporary accounts from
participants or people directly involved in an event. To
find out more about secondary sources, see our
secondary sources page.
- Diaries and literary memoirs
- Letters/ Correspondence
- Artistic works (musical and visual arts)
- News segments/transcripts
- Legal documents and Statistics
Why use primary sources?
Secondary sources are further removed from the events and often reflect the author’s biases.
Using primary sources enables you to work with the raw material and draw your own conclusions.
How can I tell if something is a primary source?
The following characteristics can help you differentiate primary sources from those that are
- How does the author know what he/she knows?
- Does his/her knowledge stem from personal experience or having witnessed an event?
- Does the author cite several other (published) reports?
- Why is the information being provided or the article written?
- Are there references to other writings on this topic?
- Is the date of publication evident?
- Does the date of publication close to the event described?
Where can I find Primary Sources?
can find primary sources at the library and local archives. You can also access primary sources
using the library’s or online resources. The following list is not comprehensive, but it includes
some good starting points to find
Specific Types of Primary Sources or to
General Primary Source
Find Specific Types of Primary Sources
You can use the
Catalog Advanced Search to look for different types of primary sources.
- Enter the type of primary source you're looking for in the first box (examples include:
narratives, correspondence, music scores, etc.)
- Change the drop-down menu next to the first search box from "Keyword" to "Subject"
- In the second box, type a related keyword (author, event, geographical location, etc.)
For example: You may type "narratives" in the first box and "Anne Frank" in the second box to
look for Anne's diary and related primary sources.
News Transcripts are available through
Lexis Nexis Academic.
- Enter search terms
- in the
Search within category select "TV and Radio Broadcast Transcripts"
- Specify date
Speeches and Interviews can be searched in
Academic Search Premier.
- On the search page scroll down to the
Limit your results section.
- From the
Document type option box on the right select
Interview. To search both simultaneously hold down the "Control" key when
making a selection.
Editorials: See the
Finding Editorials to locate editorials.
Images: See the
Guide to Finding
Images to locate photographs, paintings, and other images.
Statistics: See the
Finding Statistics to access various sorts of data.
Films: See the
Guide to Finding Films to locate films, documentaries,
General Primary Source Resources:
Article and Newspaper Databases
Newspaper Source (EBSCO)
Identifies articles in regional U.S. newspapers, international newspapers, newswires and
newspaper columns, as well as TV and radio news transcripts.
Historical Newspapers (Through the History, Philosophy, and Newspaper
Look here for African American Newspapers from the 19th Century, Early American Newspapers,
Early American Imprints, 1639 -1800 and
Early American Imprints, 1801-1819
Includes several types of primary source documents, browse by topic or search.
Local Archive Sources
Includes over 17,000 cubic feet of office records, publications, and personal papers from the
University and the Urbana-Champaign campus.
and Culture Archival Program
Includes collections relating to student life and culture on the national level and at the
University of Illinois.
Provides access to the research and scholarship of faculty, staff, and students at the
University of Illinois.
Illinois History and Lincoln Collections
Contains material on Illinois and local history, in addition to other collections.
Digital History Collections
The History, Newspaper, and Philosophy Library has a page listing public digital history
collections. Great for finding historical primary source documents such as letters and
Public Web Sources
Project (a Library of Congress initiative)
Offers a diverse collection in a variety of formats (prints, photographs, letters, reports,
sheet music, recordings, maps).
A huge collection of photographs, documents, reports, and more.
Comprehensive guide to legislative information from the Library of Congress.
New York Public Library Digital Gallery
Provides free and open access to over 685,000 images digitized from the The New York Public
Library's vast collections.
Primary Source Village
Provides a more detailed tutorial on understanding and using primary sources.