Once you do your preliminary research and understand the background of your topic, including the key people, places, events, and dates involved, you can start to think about finding primary sources. Ask yourself:
- What kind of information am I seeking? (Public, private, personal?)
- What documents would have been creating during this event? (Government documents, newspapers, diaries?)
- Which perspective am I looking for? (Civilian, soldier, general, president, enemy?)
When you can imagine what sorts of sources will meet your needs, you can start looking for them.
The easiest way to find primary sources is in the footnotes and bibliographies of your secondary sources. You may also find reference to documents or other sources created during the course of events, or that were otherwise part of events, and you should locate these as well.
Other ways to find primary sources include:
- searching the library catalogue for the names of involved people as Author.
- searching the library catalogue for your topic plus words like 'memoir', 'diary', 'personal account', etc.
- use a library database of primary sources on your topic, or an online archive (documents, newspapers, etc.)
- use a free online database of primary sources on the topic
- searching google for your topic plus a word or phrase to describe what you are trying to find
- more information can be found on the History How To: Primary Sources subject guide.
- as well, each subject guide has a list of recommended primary sources.