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National History Day Resources at University of Missouri Libraries

Guide for educators and students participating in National History Day projects.


Ask yourself: Whose eyes am I seeing this through?

A primary source is a piece of information about a historical event or period in which the creator of the source was an actual participant in or a contemporary of a historical moment.

Originals and Reprints

A primary source that you have access to may be the original but is more commonly a reproduction. A reproduction can be a book, a book chapter, an article, a website, or part of an online database.

Finding Primary Sources Using Google

Combine your search terms with phrases in quotations marks like:

  1.  “online primary sources”
  2. “online archive”
  3. “digital archive”
  4. “firsthand accounts”
  5. Documents

Finding Primary Sources in the Library Catalog

key source for 17th c British history.  Photo by pobrecito33 (Flickr)There are certain words that  signal primary sources in the MERLIN catalog.  The most important of them is sources, but there are others.

In the simple keyword search box, you can put such words after SU: in order to specify the SUBJECT field.

ex.: civil rights and SU:sources

In the Advanced search, set one of your search lines for Subject: sources, and combine it with your other search terms on other lines.


Other keywords that may help you find primary sources:

  • correspondence
  • sermons
  • diaries
  • personal narratives
  • speeches
  • manuscripts
  • archives

Depending on the period being studied, it can also be helpful to limit your search by publication date.

More keywords identifying primary sources in Library of Congress Subject Headings

Historical Newspapers and Magazines

Examples of Primary Sources