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History: Finding Primary Sources American History

Finding Primary Sources

There are many places to find these types of sources.

  • archives / museums
  • databases
  • internet
  • reference books

Not everything is available online or online for free.

Many reference books will contain the text of historical documents, reproductions of maps, statistics, etc. These are considered primary even though they have been collected into a book. Reference books, however, also contain analysis of documents, which would be considered secondary. Use the parts that fit your information need.

Local News

Newspapers are an excellent place to go for primary sources. Use this Research Guide for California Newspapers.  This primarily for the Central Valley, although some of these papers are from Los Angeles and San Diego.  These are published in English, Spanish, and Russian.

So You want to find Local News?

Suggested Reference Books

Many of these reference books include a mixture of source types, including primary sources (text of historical documents, statistics, etc.), secondary sources (analysis of the historical documents, statistics, etc.), and tertiary sources (bibliographies, references, etc).

Databases that include Primary Sources

Many of these databases also contain other source types, so make sure you use the limiters to filter results to the kind of content you're interested in.

Selected Primary Source Websites for General U.S. History

These are some examples of online primary resource collections.

There are many university and government libraries and museums with online collections of primary source materials. Find these collections using Google.

  • To limit your results to sites that end with .gov, at the end of the words you enter in the search box, type
  • To limit your results to sites that end with .edu, at the end of the words you enter in the search box, type

You can even add the words library or archive to the end of the words you enter in the search box to see if a library out there has a collection on your topic, historical period, or historical figure.

If you have a collection you want to share, contact the librarians.