Skip to Main Content


What is a Primary Source?

"A primary source is a document,
image or artifact ... created
contemporaneously with the
 under discussion."

(Williams, Historian's Toolbox,
2nd ed., p. 56)

Primary sources are evidence from participants in or
 eyewitnesses to an event.


  • Diaries, letters, speeches, memoirs/autobiographies, oral interviews, newspaper & magazine articles...
  • Images: photographs, sound & video recordings, maps...
  • Artifacts: coins, receipts, schedules, tombstones, furniture, jewelry, DNA evidence...
  • Public records: birth, death, probate, census records; court cases, official government documents...
  • Creative works:  paintings, movies, statues...


  • Original manuscripts or records
  • Authoritative transcriptions in printed volumes or digital form
  • Reproductions--digital, microfilm, facsimile...

Find Primary Source Databases

More Primary Sources

Popular publications such as magazines are primary sources.

Archives & Historical Societies

Archives preserve the documents and records of an organization and may contain unique or rare items. In general, they do not lend and have specific policies for using their facilities, making copies, etc.