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Primary Sources

How to find primary sources on the web and in the Broome Library.

Search Considerations

Search Terms

Terminology and language changes over time.   When searching primary sources you will need to think of language used at the time.

For example, if researching historical newspapers for the Great Chicago Fire from 1871, I would want to think of how it was described at the time it happened.   While using "Great Chicago Fire" will yield successful search results in seeking secondary sources, in 1871 when newspapers published about the fire, they were not yet calling it the "Great Chicago Fire."   For primary source searching a more strategic approach would be to search "Chicago" and "fire" and specify the date range of October 1, 1871 to December 31, 1871.   

Personal Names

As you search for people in old newspapers or newsletters you may notice that they frequently only use a persons last name, especially before the 20th century.  In these situations where you can only use the last name, filter by time period and/or add supporting search terms to help find articles related to the individual you are looking for.

Additionally, if the individual you are searching for immigrated to another country the spelling of their name may have changed.  In some cases, you may need to search both spelling.

Time Period

Using the advanced search function in primary source databases will allow you to select the time period you want to search, which can help eliminate secondary source content.  

You will also want to think about how the information you need might have been documented at the time.

Spoken/Written Language

Sometimes there is a language barrier present when searching primary sources, as the sources might be written in a language you don't speak.  In these cases, you will need to look for translations.   


History often has different perspectives.  When you are researching it will be important to think about the different perspectives that might be present for your topic, and consider this when you select your primary sources.   For example, when researching an event in Latin America, a diary of a person present during the even might have a very different perspective than an American newspaper writing about the event from the U.S. perspective.   



Help from a Librarian

It is not unusual for students to have trouble finding what they need. The librarians are happy to help!

You can view all of our available services and their most current hours on the library's "Ask a Librarian" page.