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History Research: Primary Sources

Primary Source Activity

Primary or Secondary Source?

More on Primary Source Research

Working with Primary Sources

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Finding Primary Sources

A Document or Manuscript is a written or printed work such as the Declaration of Independence or a grocery list written in 1933. Almost all the collections in the UWM Archives are comprised of documents or manuscripts.

Photographs are another common format. To locate them, find the catalog records of those particular collections which include photographs: use Search@UW and type the term Photographs in the search box.  To narrow the results, scroll down in the left-hand column and choose "Location" as MIL Archives.

Sound recordings will be on a variety of mediums (LP, digital file, cassette tape) and provide rich audio resources. To locate them, use Search@UW and type the term Sound recording in the search box.  To narrow the results, scroll down in the left-hand column and choose "Location" as MIL Archives.

Video recordings are rich in visual and audio source material. To locate them, use Search@UW and type the term Video recording in the search box.  To narrow the results, scroll down in the left-hand column and choose "Location" as MIL Archives.

Oral histories are recordings of an individual's personal recollections of the past. They are sometimes transcribed on paper, and sometimes the complete audio recording is available. To locate them, use Search@UW and type the term Oral histories in the search box.  To narrow the results, scroll down in the left-hand column and choose "Location" as MIL Archives.

Minutes are the official recordings of meetings. They are sometimes handwritten, but most often found typed, printed or published. To locate them, use Search@UW and type the term Minutes in the search box.  To narrow the results, scroll down in the left-hand column and choose "Location" as MIL Archives.

Diaries are first-person accounts, traditionally written on paper, but increasingly found on other mediums .To locate them, use Search@UW and type the term Diaries in the search box.  To narrow the results, scroll down in the left-hand column and choose "Location" as MIL Archives.

Scrapbooks are compilations of a variety of materials, such as photos, letters, news clippings, and organics (flowers, locks of hair). To locate them, use Search@UW and type the term Scrapbooks in the search box.  To narrow the results, scroll down in the left-hand column and choose "Location" as MIL Archives.

Search the UW system library catalog to locate archival and manuscript collections that will contain primary sources. You can search by keyword/s in the box provided below. This search box pulls up results from the UWM Archives Department, the UWM Special Collections, and the Wisconsin Historical Society. Note that these results will include catalog records for books, but most of the results will describe archival or manuscript collections, which include documents, reports, photographs, et al.

Here are three examples of simple keyword searches.  Note that the boolean operator and is not necessary between keywords.

1. World War I Milwaukee
2. Communism Wisconsin
3. Civil Rights African Americans Milwaukee


If your search doesn't produce relevant results, try again with different keywords.

A general search hint: when reading any catalog record, follow the links found at "Subjects" to locate other material in the UWM Libraries on that same subject.

The UWM Libraries Archives write finding aids, or guides, for most of their collections. These guides explain the creator, contents and dates of the collection, which is important in deciding if something is useful to your research. A finding aid also provides the information you will need to request and use a collection when you visit the Archives Dept.

All of our finding aids are included in Archival Resources in Wisconsin, a database of over 4,000 finding aids of collections held in seventeen repositories statewide.

Search our finding aids by using the search boxes below. Be sure to select an operator (and, or or not) as appropriate, and then click on "Search." Then explore the links in the grey band that appears with each result. Note: this search is limited to our holdings at the Archives Department, UWM Libraries, which is also known as the Milwaukee Area Research Center.

Primary sources are often not found in a basic Google search. Deeper content can be found by first finding the places that host primary sources on the web. The following are designator terms you can use to find deep web sources: 

  • Wiki
  • Search Engine
  • Repository
  • Digital Collection
  • Database
  • Archive
  • Portal
  • Catalog 

Here are a few collections in which you can start your search:

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Licensing

The contents of the Library Advanced Research Competencies tutorial may be reused with attribution. Please copy the following into new works based on the Library Advanced Research Competencies:
Creative Commons LicenseLibrary Advanced Research Competencies by Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at guides.library.uwm.edu.