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Primary Sources

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.

Using Library Catalog Search

Search UM's collections by using the online library catalog.

You can strengthen your searches by using the filter options to describe what you're looking for. For example, if you enter your research topic as a keyword, you can also add subject terms that will specify the type of source material you want.


  •          suffrage AND correspondence
  •          botany AND illustrations
  •          revolutionary war AND diary

Be sure to capitalize the word AND in order to search for both word or phrase choices. You can also add date ranges (e.g., 19th century) and geographic regions (Africa) as subject terms to focus in on the time period or area you are researching. Most catalog and databases have an Advanced Search page to help you.


  • biography AND “19th century” AND Norway

Helpful keywords:

  • archival resources
  • archives
  • atlases
  • bibliography
  • biography
  • broadsides
  • case studies
  • charts, diagrams
  • concordances
  • correspondence
  • daguerreotypes
  • diaries
  • dictionaries
  • encyclopedias
  • engravings
  • handbooks, manuals, etc.
  • illustrations
  • indexes
  • manuscripts—catalogs
  • maps
  • newspapers
  • periodicals 
  • personal narratives
  • photograph collections
  • photographs
  • pictorial works
  • portraits
  • prints
  • sermons
  • sources
  • speeches in Congress
  • speeches, addresses, etc.
  • statistics


If you can't find the book you need from the catalog, you can try WorldCat. WorldCat is a giant library catalog, where you can look up books, dissertations, journals, music, and more from libraries around the world. This is a great resource to use when you want to know which libraries have the item you're looking for, or you want to see what kinds of resources exist for your topic.

You can search WorldCat using the same catalog techniques described above.

Archive and Manuscript Collections

An archive is a place where primary source historical documents are collected, maintained and preserved. They usually emphasize non-book items (such as photos, letters, diaries, and audiovisual objects). A manuscript is a written document, and a manuscript collection usually consists of letters, drafts, journals, etc.

Archivists often create finding aids to help you discover the contents of a particular collection. Our Finding Archives and Manuscripts can help you learn how to use finding aids and discover archives.