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Finding Primary Sources

What is a Primary Source?

Primary sources are original records of political, economic, artistic, scientific, social, and intellectual thoughts and achievements. They can be about significant historical events or simply someone's diary. Produced by the people who participated in and witnessed the past, primary sources offer a variety of points of view and perspectives of events, issues, people, and places. These records can be found anywhere—in a home, a government archive, etc.—the important thing to remember is they were used or created by someone with firsthand experience of an event.

Examples of Primary Sources

Examples of Primary Sources: Primary sources are not just documents and written records. There are many different kinds of primary sources, including: first-person accounts, documents, physical artifacts, scientific data that has been collected but not interpreted, and face-to-face mentors with specific knowledge or expertise. Primary sources also take a variety of formats:

Audio—oral histories or memoirs, interviews, music

Images—photographs, videos, film, fine art

Objects—clothing (fashion or uniforms), tools, pottery, gravestones, inventions, weapons, memorabilia

Statistics—census data, population statistics, weather records

Text—letters, diaries, original documents, legal agreements, treaties, maps, laws, advertisements, recipes, genealogical information, sermons/lectures

How do Primary and Secondary sources differ?

While primary sources are the original records created by firsthand witnesses of an event, secondary sources are documents, texts, images, and objects about an event created by someone who typically referenced the primary sources for their information. Textbooks are excellent examples of secondary sources.

Another way to think about secondary sources is that they derive from a primary source. Meaning, they exist because of the primary source and the information they provide is taken from that primary source.


Objects, heirlooms, etc.



Letter, diaries, correspondence