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Library Research Guides

Primary Sources Primer

Introduction to the nature of primary sources and how to find them at the University of Michigan, including resources on campus, external to campus, and online.

Helpful Strategies for Finding Primary Sources

Locating Materials and Collections:

  • Talk to scholars working in your area of research.
  • Mine end notes, footnotes, and bibliographies.  Have other scholars worked on this subject?  Even if they're looking at the subject from a completely different angle, other scholars' bibliographies (including dissertations) can be a rich resource for locating obscure archives.
  • Talk to librarians.  Librarians are a great resource for finding out what's in a collection, whether there is information about it in the catalog or not. 
  • Check to see if the material is available on microfilm or online.
  • If you are looking specifically for archives or manuscripts, see our research guide, Finding Archives and Manuscripts for more tips.

Local and State Resources

Numerous special collections and archives exist in and for the State of Michigan, including:

Ann Arbor and Detroit Area:

The Making of Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor District Library's Local History Page

Detroit Public Library

Arab American National Museum and Library 

State of Michigan:

Library of Michigan

Archives of Michigan

Library of Congress Selected Michigan Resources

Seeking Michigan

Michigan State University Special Collections

Wayne State University Special Collections

Other cities and academic instutitions will also have collections of various depths pertaining to their own and local history.  You can identify these through searching the website for the institution or by googling your topic and terms such as manuscripts, archives, special collections, etc. 

U.S. Sources

U.S. and International Sources

General Guides to Archives

ArchiveGrid:  Over 500,000 records describing archival collections around the world.

Archive Finder:  A database of approximately 100,000 manuscript and other special collections at nearly 4,500 repositories in the U.S., U.K., and Ireland.

Guide to Archives and Manuscript Collections (Columbia University)

Primary Sources in U.S. History:  Guides to Microforms

WorldCat:  A database of catalog records from over 57,000 libraries worldwide. 


A2A -- Access to Archives (UK):  A2A allows you to search for documents in archives in England and Wales dating from the 8th century to the present.

Archives Hub:  A database that searches archives held in libraries in England, Scotland, and Wales.

Archives Portal Europe:  Provides information about archival collections throughout Europe.

National Register of Archives: The National Archives covers England, Wales, and the United Kingdom. The National Register of Archives contains information on British manuscripts and historical records.


Repositories of Primary Sources: A listing of over 5000 websites describing holdings of manuscripts, archives, rare books, historical photographs, and other primary sources from all parts of the world.