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Original, uninterpreted information,"primary sources" are the evidence left behind by participants or observers of a given event or a particular period of time. 


Typical primary sources may include:


  • photographs
  • letters
  • artifacts
  • diaries
  • works of art such as paintings/sculptures/quilts
  • journals
  • autobiographies
  • music and songs
  • memoirs
  • cartoons
  • census records

As opposed to primary sources, "secondary sources" synthesize and interpret primary materials.  Books, journal articles, textbooks, and encyclopedias are examples of secondary sources.

  1. Find out more.
    Take time to learn about your topic. This helps identify who might have created primary sources, as well as what kind of primary source.
  2. Find published primary sources.
    Helpful keywords: sources, documentary history, personal narratives, diaries, correspondence, memoirs. Look for published primary sources first in the library's catalog then WorldCat
  3. Find digitized, online primary sources.
    Look for primary sources that have been digitized and made available online. These may include databases like "Early American Imprints - Series I, Evans (1639-1800)," which is in our library database collections.

    These may also include free resources on the web like the Library of Congress's American Memory project. There are so many online, free resources today that only using Google or a directory like European Primary Sources (or both) will find them. 

Library Catalogs

  • Search the library catalog to find primary source materials at the EKU Libraries.
  • Search WorldCat to find collections at thousands of libraries worldwide. Use the Advanced Search feature to limit by format or publication date.

Finding Aids

Use finding aids to locate processed archival collections in archives, libraries, and museums. Finding aids are increasingly available online and freely accessible.

  • ArchiveGrid - Finding aids/collection descriptions from thousands of libraries, museums, and archives. Researchers searching ArchiveGrid can learn about the many items in each of these collections, contact archives to arrange a visit to examine materials, and order copies.

Reference & Other Print Sources

Make use of the many excellent print resources that are available to find primary source materials.  These include:

  • Bibliographies
  • Film, Literature, and Periodical Indexes
  • Biographical Resources
  • Encyclopedias, Dictionaries, Handbooks
  • Secondary Sources (search the text, footnotes, and bibliographies for references to primary sources used)

Internet Search Engines

  • Use the Internet to find primary source materials by adding primary source specific terms to a Search Engine search. For example, "Civil War +soldiers + diaries."

Search on the following subject terms to help locate primary sources in the Library Catalog and WorldCat:


Keyword/Subject Searching:


  • sources
  • diaries
  • early works to 1800
  • interviews
  • pamphlets
  • personal narratives
  • correspondence
  • speeches


You could try combining any of these terms along with the keyword(s) for your topic. Just remember to choose Subject from the drop-down menu for the search box containing your primary source subject term.


Restricting by Date of Publication:


You may also narrow a search by limiting the results by date of publication or format.

Limiting sources to a particular date of publication will help you to locate contemporary sources published at the time of an event. For example, if you are studying British Literature during WWII, refine your search results by using the publication date limiters to retrieve novels published only during the years 1939 to 1945.


For example, if you were looking for primary sources related to immigration, you might try the following search:


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