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History Research Guide

Steps for Searching for Primary Sources

Try these steps:

  1. Search the Library catalog using your preferred keywords AND search SUBJECTS like: correspondence, diaries, or personal narratives
  2. Search in WorldCat. Access through HSU Library Databases A-Z link. Also try a keyword and subjects search. Your searches might pull internet, archival, map, and sound recording resources
  3. Search the Internet. There are many great special and digital collections out there, but it's a matter of finding them for topics. Try including phrases like "primary sources" or "digital collections" in your internet searches.
    1. This is a great link to start with:
    2. This is also helpful in determining subject headings:

Search for Primary Resources in Books

HSU Library Catalog
See suggestions below to search for primary resources in books at HSU.



Finding Primary Sources in Books

These are some of the most commonly used subject headings to describe published books that include primary sources. Do a subject keyword search in the HSU Catalog to locate primary sources in books:

  • Correspondence
  • Description and travel
  • Diaries
  • Interviews
  • Personal narratives
  • Pictorial works

Narrowing Down by Topic

Now that we know how to locate primary sources in books, try adding additional subject keywords to locate books on your topic of interest. Some examples may include:

  • Japanese Americans interviews
  • World War, 1914-1918 personal narratives
  • Civil War diaries
  • Mexico description and travel

Online Repositories & Resources

Federal Government Documents

Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS)

The Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) is a serial publication of the United States Department of State's Office of the Historian. FRUS documents the historical record of all major United States foreign policy decisions and diplomatic activity.


Call Number: Docs S1.1 [year] [volume]. There are multiple years and volumes in the stacks. (1861-1976)
Location: Federal Government Documents, Library 3rd Floor

FRUS Online:

The Congressional Record

The Congressional Record is the official text of the proceedings of the United States Congress. The Congressional Record Index is an indexed list of names and topics from a specific congressional session.

This guide to the Dates of Congressional Sessions maps session number to calendar year.

The Congressional Record at HSU:

Call Number: Docs X (1873-1988)
Location: Government Documents Microfilm Cabinets, Library 3rd Floor

The Congressional Record Online:

Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States

The Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States (the Presidential Papers) is the official publication of United States Presidents' public writings, addresses, and remarks.

Presidential Papers at HSU:

Call Number: Docs AE 2.114 (1929-2010)
Location: Federal Government Documents, Library 3rd Floor

Presidential Papers Online:


Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents

The weekly and daily compilations of presidential documents are the official publications released by the White House Press Secretary.

Weekly & Daily Compilations Online:


Supreme Court Rulings

United States Reports

The opinions of the Supreme Court of the United States are published officially in a set of case books called the United States Reports. Only the printed bound volumes of the United States Reports contain the final, official opinions of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Reports at HSU:

Call Number: Docs JU 6.8
Location: Federal Government Documents, Library 3rd Floor


FindLaw: Searchable Database of U.S. Supreme Court decisions. 

Catalogs decisions since 1760. Supreme Court opinions are browseable by year and U.S. Reports volume number, and are searchable by party name, case title, citation, full text and docket number. 

WestLaw Campus Research : Search Supreme Court decisions as well as legislative history, court cases, statues, regulations, and secondary sources. 

Legal Information Institute at Cornell University Law School. Search historic supreme court cases by topic

Supreme Court Database by Washington University Law. Analyze legacy (1791-1945 ) data by subject and many other limiters, or search a particular case. 


There are several places to search for photographs as primary resources. Try these to start:

Historical Newspapers

Search these historical newspaper platforms to find contemporaneous coverage of an event:

Primary Sources


A primary source is:

  • a contemporaneous, firsthand account of an event;
  • data obtained through original research;
  • original, creative works of art such as poems or paintings, etc.


Primary sources can be:

  • manuscripts;
  • diaries or journals;
  • correspondence or letters;
  • photographs;
  • newspaper clippings;
  • government documents;
  • interviews or oral histories;
  • original works of art.

Primary sources can also be reproduced in published books such as:

This book tells the firsthand account of William Anderson's travels through the American West in the early 1830s, even though the book was published in 1967.

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources are works that interpret or analyze primary research, data, or firsthand accounts of an event.