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Primary Sources - History: General Research Guide: Find Books

This guide is for students seeking original records created at the time historical events occurred or well after events in the form of memoirs and oral histories.

Finding Primary Sources in Books

Use the GIL-Find Catalog to locate primary sources using keywords such as documents, sources, letters, and correspondence combined with your subject. For example, Abraham Lincoln and letters.

Use the power of subject searching

Books in libraries are assigned one or more subject headings. These are standardized terms that ensure books on the same topic can be found even if the keywords are different.

Doing an "Exact Search" in GIL-Find using a basic or broad subject heading will give you a list of subcategories for that subject.

Examples of broad subject headings:

  • Cuba History Revolution 1959
  • United States History Civil War 1861-1865
  • Women's Rights United States
  • Germany History

Subcategories like "--Sources," "--Correspondence," "--Diaries" are good indicators that an item is a primary source.

For example:

  • Women's rights United States History Sources
  • Women Georgia Atlanta Diaries
  • African American authors Correspondence

When you find a good book, look at its subject headings in the catalog record. Follow these to list other items on that topic. Or, use the subject heading terms in a new keyword search.


Use the GIL-Find catalog to search for books, e‑books, DVDs, CDs, and other items in GPC Libraries' holdings.




GIL-Find Search Strategies for Primary Sources

1) Do a keyword search on your topic, and add any of the following special terms as subject keywords:

sources correspondence
personal narratives diaries
early works to 1800 interviews
photographs maps
pictorial works oral history
speeches campaign literature
description and travel


2) Use an author (or corporate author) keyword search to find books written by key participants and organizations.  (Also search for names of key people in the subject.)

3) Limit your search by publication date

tuberculosis <1800

4) Try adding the keywords papers or document? or memoir? to your search

This will pull up titles such as The Papers of Thomas Jefferson and the Columbia Documentary History of Race and Ethnicity in America