This is the "Identifying Primary Sources" page of the "Primary Sources at Baylor University Libraries" guide.
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What's available in the way of primary sources at Baylor Libraries? How do I find them and use them? How do I find primary sources outside of the Baylor Library system?
Last Updated: Dec 17, 2014 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Identifying Primary Sources Print Page

Smart Searching

To quickly locate a particular type of primary source in most online catalogues use the following terms as SUBJECT rather than KEYWORD terms:





Entries for countries and regions are usually subdivided by century.  If you are looking for what is available to document general social or intellectual trends in a period search for the country's formal name (Great Britain, not "England") followed by the century designation: Great Britain 15th century.  Major events in any century will often have a subheading of their own: Great Britain World War 1914 - 1918.

You can use the subheading Sources with these time period designations as well: Hundred Years War 1339 1453 Sources

When searching in WorldCat your result list will have a set of tabs at the top, two may be of interest for primary sources:

  • Archival - used for collections of unedited primary sources for individuals, professional societies, or corporations
  • Internet - may lead to freely accessible digital collections, such as The Diaries of John Quincy Adams a Digital Collection located on the Massachussets Historical Society web site

What is a Primary Source?

Primary source: In scholarship, a document or record containing firsthand information or original data on a topic. Primary sources include original manuscripts, articles reporting original research or thought, diaries, memoirs, letters, journals, photographs, drawings, posters, film footage, sheet music, songs, interviews, government documents, public records, eyewitness accounts, newspaper clippings, etc.  Glossary of Library and Research Terms.

A book which is the edited text of a manuscript, diary, or other type of primary source is also a primary source.  Thus, the printed editions of The Parliament rolls of medieval England 1275 - 1504 is also a primary source even though it was published in 2005.

Tools to Find Collections of Primary Sources Located in the U.S.

  • Moody Special Collections List
    List with brief descriptions of the several scholars collections which may have primary source materials in various fields from language to religion, Celtic culture to Baptist missionary records.
  • Gale's Ready Reference Shelf Online
    Search for the libraries and special collections which hold the archives, papers, and other materials of individuals or corporations. Go to the ADVANCED SEARCH feature, choose "Directory of Special Libraries and Information Centers" from the menu, then type in the name of the library, group, or individual you are looking for (i.e., "African Americans" or "Armstrong Browning Library"). Can narrow by state or city.
  • BearCat
    Locate primary sources in print or online in all Baylor libraries. See side box on "Smart Searching" for search tips.
  • WorldCat
    Search over 10,000 libraries, including museum & special collections, worldwide. Type in your individual, group, or organization's name, then check the box for "Archival Materials" to limit the search to archives. The link provided makes it easier to search for archival material, but you might also try:

Guides to Primary Sources in Europe

  • Archives Portal Europe  Icon  Icon
    "The Archives Portal Europe provides access to information on archival material from different European countries as well as information on archival institutions throughout the continent." (web site).
    You can limit search to digital items only or to country, archive, sound/image/text object, and date (currently only from 1800 forward).
  • EuroDocs
    Links to open access sources of European documents that are "transcribed, reproduced in facsimile, or translated." Arranged by three broad chronological periods and by country/nation-state. Includes documents that shed light on historical, cultural, political, and economic history
  • European History Primary Sources
    Provides online access to digital copies of European primary sources. Search by country, time period, language, subject, or type of source. Access to sources is free, but some sites may require registration.
  • Europeana
    "Europeana is a single access point to millions of books, paintings, films, museum objects and archival records that have been digitised throughout Europe. It is an authoritative source of information coming from European cultural and scientific institutions."
    From music to art nouveau, Eastern European wedding ceremonies to musical instruments, this site makes many aspects of European culture accessible to users.
  • World War I Document Archive
    "This archive of primary documents from World War One has been assembled by volunteers of the World War I Military History List (WWI-L). International in focus, the archive intends to present in one location primary documents concerning the Great War. "
    Organized into 9 subject/content sections, this site includes a biographical directory, an image archive, and a section on diaries and personal reminiscences, among other sections.


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