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Finding Primary Sources in an Archives

Page history last edited by Shaun Hayes 10 years, 2 months ago

Home >  Student/Teacher Section > Finding Primary Sources in an Archives 


To find primary sources relevant to your topic, you can conduct an online search.


Searching Archives' Websites

One easy way to find out if archives in your area have primary sources relevant to your topic is to visit their websites.


To find an archives near you and visit their website, as well as contact information for your NHD coordinator, click on the map to the right. You'll see that archives are often located within museums, university or college libraries, public libraries, historical societies, and other institutions.


Once you have identified the website of an archives near you, check to see if it has a search box to search the archives' collections. Remember that while some archives may have digitized some of their materials, most of their collections will not be online; so what you will be looking through are descriptions of materials. From these you will hopefully start to get a sense of what collections could be interesting for you to explore in person.


  • If the website has a search box, enter some keywords that relate to your topic. Be sure to look at your results thoroughly. You might have to do several searches to find relevant materials.


  • If the website does not have a search box, look for a listing of subjects or collections. These listings will help you identify materials that may be relevant to your research topic.


In both cases, follow up by contacting the archives to find out more about the primary sources you're interested in. Email or call them to explain you are doing a History Day project and want to know if they have materials on your subject. Talking with archives staff at the beginning can save you a lot of time and effort--you'll have a better idea of what's at the archives before you get there.


Searching Many Archives at Once

Archivists have also worked together to create websites that let you search the finding aids from many archives--usually in geographic regions--at once. These websites work like the search boxes on an archives' website, but they will look across finding aids from many archives. They will help you identify a selection of primary sources relevant to your topic and find out where they are located.


From the list below, find your region and try searching for your topic to see what collections may be available nearby. Note that these tools may not contain every archives in your region, nor everything they contain. It is always best to contact the repository to see what collections they have and how you can learn more about them.


Some of these websites also provide access to digital copies of archival materials. However, their main focus is on providing descriptions of collections that you will have to visit in person. Visit the Online Primary Sources page if you want to find digital primary sources online.




South and Mid-Atlantic:




West and Southwest:


Other resources:

Society of American Archivists Reference, Access and Outreach Section's National History Day Committee| Credits

The Society of American Archivists does not assume responsibility for the opinions and views published on this auxiliary site.


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