A primary source is an artifact, a document, a recording, or other source of information that was created at the time under study. It serves as an original source of information about the topic (the first version). A primary source can be a person with direct knowledge of a situation.
So when should someone use primary sources? To read eyewitness accounts or view photographs or video of an event instead of relying on a summarized explanation; to interpret data yourself instead of relying on another's interpretation; to reflect on and analyze works of literature or art instead of relying on another's opinion; to verify claims made in secondary sources.
Some examples of primary sources include:
A secondary source is material that relates or discusses information originally presented elsewhere. Secondary sources involve generalization, analysis, synthesis, interpretation, or evaluation of the original information. Some sources may be classified as primary or secondary, depending on how it is used.
Some examples of secondary sources include:
Tertiary sources attempt to condense and summarize materials into an overview, but may also present subjective commentary and analysis (which are characteristics of a secondary source). Reference books like almanacs or user manuals would be typical examples.
Some examples of tertiary sources include:
Some good places to start would be some of our databases:
Remember, however, that primary sources are original sources. Asking for interviews, checking museums or other places that specialize in local history, or looking through government documents are all great ways to research using primary sources.
Search the National Archives for collections of documents that are important to American History.