Help! I Need to Find Primary Sources

Have you been told to use primary sources in your research? Read on for some suggestions!

What are primary sources, anyway?
Revolutionary war map

A primary source is one which was created during the time period being studied. Examples could include documents, speeches/interviews, images, articles (written during the time period), and even artifacts. So, if you are studying the Holocaust, The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank is considered a primary source. Someone researching the Civil War could use Matthew Brady’s battlefield photographs. And President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” speech is a great primary source for those studying the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Where can I find them?

A great place to begin your search is the digital collections of the Library of Congress, which contain documents, audio recordings, images, videos and maps. Here you can listen to former slaves tell their stories, watch video clips from the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, or view maps from the American Revolution.

The National Archives also has a large collection of primary source materials for students and educators. They are arranged by time period and are keyword searchable. Would you like to see President Kennedy’s academic record at Harvard? Or view a handwritten copy of the Oregon Treaty that set the boundary between the U.S. and Canada?  You’ll find them here.

The Masterfile Premier database contains the text of thousands of primary source documents. To find them, once you are in the database, click on the Advanced Search link. Then enter your search terms in the box at the top, and make sure to choose Primary Source Document in the Publication Type box before you click on Search. You'll need your library card number and password to search Masterfile Premier.

For historic photos, a great place to look is the LIFE Magazine archive (no library card required), which spans the time period from the 1860s and 1970s.

Are you looking for primary sources specifically about Oregon history? The Oregon Digital library searches the collections of libraries around the state to find both documents and images. The Oregon State Archives also has some web exhibits about Oregon history that incorporate primary resources; topics range from the creation of the Oregon constitution to Oregonians’ experiences in World War II.

Still have questions? Check out our blog post on Finding Primary Source Articles or contact a librarian for more help!


I need 2 primary articles about the Japanese russo war, but I'm not sure where to look if you could help me out that would be great.
Hello, this is Jackie from the Multnomah County Library. You can find quite a few articles about the Russo-Japanese war in the Historical Oregonian database ( I did a search for Russo-Japanese War and limited the years to 1904-1905. You do need a Multnomah County Library card to use this resource. If you don't have a Multnomah County Library card, you may want to look at the documents page of The Russo-Japanese War Research Society ( which links to documents and articles about the war.
I vaccinated Dr Lendon Smith on the front page of the Oregonian in 1966 as I recall and I would like to see the photo
Hello, this is Jackie from the Multnomah County Library. The Historical Oregonian database ( would be the place to find this photo. I did a quick search for Dr. Lendon Smith and the year 1966 and did not find the photo, but you may have more luck by searching for your name (if it was included in the article) or by looking for articles about Dr. Lendon Smith in other years. If you need further help, you can contact our librarians here: