Find Primary Sources

What are Primary Sources? (Helpful link from Yale University)


Finding Primary Sources in RhinoCat

RhinoCat is the Library's automated catalog of books, ebooks, DVDs, and other library materials. 

Many books and reference sources, print and electronic, contain primary sources. 

  • To find documents relating to your topic
    • Copy and paste the following exact word string into the basic keyword search box:
      • su,wrdl: sources or su,wrdl: diaries or su,wrdl: personal narratives and kw, phr: xxxxx
    • Substitute your topic or topic phrase for xxxxx
    • Additional terms useful for locating primary sources are: correspondence, interviews, speeches, and statistics.
  • To find writings, speeches, and more by a person related to your topic
    • Do an Author search using your person's name to find books, letters, diaries, memoirs, autobiographies written by that person.
    • Do a Keyword search of your person's name to identify writings, interviews, speeches in anthologies and collections.


Jackdaws Taft Online Subscriptions Websites


Jackdaws are portfolios containing facsimilies of primary source documents on a given subject. They are located in the drawers beneath the Library printer, arranged a-z by Library of Congress classification number.

  • Go to RhinoCat 
  • Click on Advanced Search to enter the advanced search screen
  • In the Keyword field, type your general topic or topic phrase such as: civil war, Vietnam, railroad, women
  • Scroll down to Item Type and choose Jackdaw
  • Click Search

Taft Online Subscription Databases

  • 19th Century U.S. Newspapers Digital Archive Full-text content and images from hundreds of urban and rural newspapers in 19th century America
  • African American Newspapers, 1827-1998 Full-text access to 270 historically significant African-American newspapers from across the U.S.
  • American History Online Overview essays, biographies, primary sources, videos and slideshows, images, timelines, and maps and graphs in American political, military, social, and cultural history. 
  • American Periodicals (1740 - 1940) Contains periodicals published between 1740 and 1940, including special interest and general magazines, literary and professional journals, children's and women's magazines and many other historically-significant periodicals.
  • America's Historical Newspapers Full-text coverage of America's historical newspapers from 1690-2000
  • Ancient and Medieval History Online Overview essays, biographies, events and topics, primary source documents, timelines, maps and charts, images and videos on eight ancient and medieval civilizations
  • Annals of American History Search 2700+ primary source documents and multimedia by author, decade, or topic
  • Annual Register A year-by-year record of British and world events, published annually since 1758. The online version of the Annual Register is a digitized version of this classic 250+ volume reference work. Every year, a new volume is published describing the past year's events.
  • Classroom Video On Demand Contains archival films and newsreels beginning with World War I
  • Daily Life Through History (Academic) Explore aspects of everyday life in different historical eras
  • Hartford Courant
  • Issues & Controversies in American History Background, outcomes, and contemporary points of view for every major debate and conflict in American history.
  • JSTOR Full-text scholarly journals in the arts, humanities, and sciences, many dating back to the 19th century. It also contains the following primary source collections: 19th Century British Pamphlets Collection, Struggles for Freedom: South Africa, Global Plants, and World Heritage Sites: Africa.
  • Modern World History Online Overview essays, biographies, events and topics, primary source documents, timelines, maps and charts, images and videos from the mid-15th century to the present.
  • National Geographic Virtual Library Features the entire magazine archive 1888 - present
  • The New York Times
  • Readers' Guide Retrospective Contains the complete indexing of The Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature, 1890-1982, and full text content where available.
  • The Times (London) Digital Archive, 1785-2012 More than 200 years of news in full facsimile images from London's premier newspaper
  • U. S. History in Context Comprehensive collection of reference sources, primary documents, periodicals, maps and multimedia
  • Women and Social Movements The history of women in social movements in the U.S. between 1600 and 2000 with thousands of primary source documents
  • World History in Context Comprehensive collection of reference sources, primary documents, periodicals, maps and multimedia


A good place to start is Primary Sources on the Web: Finding, Evaluating, Using from the American Library Association's Reference and User Services Association. It includes links to major collections of primary sources in history on the web.

Digital Libraries on the Web:

  • Google Books (contains millions of digitized books, many available for free)
  • Internet Archive (Huge digital library of archived websites, music, moving images, magazines, and books)
  • Online Books Page (Over 2 million free books and serials - magazines, journals, newspapers, etc - on the Web searchable by author and title, and browsable by subject; from University of Penn.)
  • Project Gutenberg (Large collection of digitized books through the ages; Search by author, or choose the Bookshelf from the sidebar and browse)

To find primary sources using Google, the following will work, but be sure to evaluate the website.

This search will find primary source documents relating to the Berlin Wall on the internet.

Search Tip Add the phrase site:gov OR site:edu to limit your results to the domain .gov for U.S. government agencies and the domain .edu for educational institutions in the U.S, the two most reliable domains.

Updated 2/2019