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Primary Sources: Introduction

How to find primary sources, in print, in manuscripts, and in electronic formats.

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How do I find the databases?

BJU students must use their CAS (campus login) user name and password in order to access databases. It is the same user name and password used to access email.

Primary Sources

The following list is not intended to be exhaustive, nor does it provide a taxonomy of sources. You can use this list, though, to think about which types of sources may have information about your topic.

  • Advertisements
  • Architecture
  • Artifacts (e.g., furniture, clothing, tools, electronics)
  • Audio recordings
  • Autobiographies/memoirs
  • Books
  • Broadsides
  • Brochures/pamphlets
  • Business records
  • Calendars of state papers
  • Cartoons
  • CDs
  • Cemeteries/gravestones
  • Census summaries/records
  • Charters
  • Church records
  • Computer code
  • Diaries, journals
  • DNA
  • Films (e.g., war footage, entertainment)
  • Financial data
  • Genealogies
  • Government publications
  • Institutional records
  • Interviews
  • Journals
  • Judicial records (e.g., probate records,  case reports)
  • Legislative records (e.g., bills, votes, debates, hearings)
  • Letters
  • Literature
  • Logs of a voyage or trip
  • Magazines
  • Manuscripts
  • Maps
  • Movies
  • Municipal records
  • Music
  • Newspapers
  • Oral histories
  • Paintings
  • Pamphlets
  • Papers
  • Photographs
  • Records of executive/bureaucratic branch of government (e.g., executive orders, rolls, licenses, tax records, registers of birth/death)
  • Sculpture
  • Statistical data
  • Treaties
  • TV shows
  • Voting records
  • Web pages

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When searching for primary sources, it helps to have a definite plan. Follow these steps:

  1. Define your topic. Are you researching the history of an event? a theme? an institution? an idea? a place? You can find sources, but you won't know if they're helpful unless you know what question you're trying to answer.
  2. List the types of resources that might help you answer that question.  Do you need correspondence? diaries? newspapers? government records? Be imaginative in thinking of the types of sources that could possibly answer your question. Doubtless you will come across additional sources when you begin your research; this list is just the beginning.
  3. List the places that you might find such sources. Will they be held in state archives? in museums? in libraries? Will they be available online? You will have to check with each possible repository to see what it has available.

Library of Congress site at gives instruction on Using Primary Sources

World Cat

World Cat is a public access union catalog with over a billion MARC records.

Subject Guide

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