100 Terrific Sites to Find Primary Source History Documents

Researching on the Internet means working from home, viewing collections from around the world and stumbling across rare finds from somewhat obscure libraries or museums. But it also means linking to garbage, weird conspiracy theories, and even plagiarized material. To connect you to the best historical references, we’ve generated this list of 100 terrific sites that feature primary source documents, recordings, images and more.

Libraries

From the Library of Congress to university research libraries, these websites are packed with authoritative information. With a bachelor’s in Information Systems, this can be an especially helpful resource.

  1. The Library of Congress: The Library of Congress has a wealth of information available to the public online and in the library, mostly about American history and culture.
  2. New York Public Library Archives and Manuscripts: Here you can search archives for full-text resources and more. If something isn’t available online, you can also connect with a librarian to find a similar match.
  3. The John Adams Library at the Boston Public Library: This library project in Massachusetts features full electronic cataloging of the entire John Adams Library collection, as well as typed transcripts and manuscripts, and a gallery exhibition.
  4. The Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley: This unique library in California holds rare books, manuscripts and other primary sources, including 8 million photographs, 43,000 microforms and 23,000 maps.
  5. The University of Chicago Special Collections: The school’s special collections library houses rare books, manuscripts, university archives and a special Chicago Jazz archive.
  6. L. Tom Perry Special Collections at Brigham Young University: Find manuscripts, lectures, photographs, rare books and more pertaining to Mormonism, world history, literature, the American West and more at this library in Utah.
  7. Special Collections at Florida State University: Find rare Bibles from the 15th century, as well as one of the largest collections of Napoleon and the French Revolution in the U.S., including unique letters and journals from Napoleon in Florida State University’s library.
  8. Manuscript Reading Room: The Library of Congress’ Manuscript Reading Room features special collections, research tools, and information about preserving and collecting manuscripts.
  9. Gelman Special Collections Research Center at George Washington University: This collection of primary sources includes documents and more relating to African American history, labor history, media and journalism, and more.
  10. Harvard University Special Collections: Harvard’s Special Collections range from topics like theology, science, art and more.
  11. Bibliotheque Sainte-Genevieve: Here you can access one of the most important collections of rare books and manuscripts from the Middle Ages.
  12. British Library: The British Library features a “help for researchers” page, which lets you narrow down your search by topic, time period and resource type.
  13. Trinity College Library, Dublin: This library is home to the Book of Kells and many other artifacts and archives.
  14. The National Library of Ireland: The National Library of Ireland boasts a special collection that features documents and manuscripts that go back almost 1,000 years.
  15. LSU Special Collections: Special collections found at the LSU library include a rare books collection, natural history collection and The Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections.

Museums

Here you can visit The Smithsonian, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and more, without having to buy a plane ticket.

  1. The Smithsonian: Find everything from original art and design pieces to science, technology, American history and more.
  2. The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Find original designs from the late 18th century to the modern era, including shoe buckles, lace capes, bonnets, shoes and more from this New York-based library.
  3. American Museum of Natural History: Read about the research projects undertaken by curators at this famous museum and view permanent collections of iridescent gemstones, the Audubon Gallery and more.
  4. Natural Museum of American History: This museum’s online collections include information and resources pertaining to American invention, history and pop music.
  5. Tokyo National Museum: Find original works and copies of Chinese rubbings, calligraphy, archaeology and more.
  6. Lyrical Legacy: Here you’ll find poems and lyrics and music to songs like Yankee Doodle, Battle of Bunker Hill, Sonnet to Liberty and We Shall Overcome.
  7. A Selection of Web-Accessible Collections at Harvard University: Find daguerreotypes, botanical images from Eastern Asia, Chinese rubbings, and a lot more from this Harvard collection.
  8. American Memory: Browse topics like government/law, cities/towns, African American history, maps, or literature to find digital files.
  9. Smithsonian Folkways: The Smithsonian’s tribute to the sound of culture, this collection features archives American singers, history makers and more.
  10. Online Resources for Music Scholars: The Harvard College Library includes primary sources including music theory texts, Medieval and Early Modern music, and more.
  11. Music Primary Sources: The University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign has tips and resources for music researchers wanting to use the Sousa Archives’ Collection.
  12. York University Oral History and Audio-Visual Materials: This Canadian university library has recordings about slavery, American advertising, Canadian history and more.
  13. Motion Picture Films and Sound and Video Recordings: The National Archive’s online collection of video and sound recordings can be found here.
  14. Lists of Highlights of Recordings of LBJ’s Telephone Conversations: Listen to highlights of LBJ’s telephone conversations with high-profile icons like Jackie Kennedy and Henry Kissinger from the 1960s.

Art History

These art history websites include the Yale University Art Gallery, MoMA, and more, covering British art, Asian collections and others.

  1. Museum of Modern Art: New York’s MoMA features an online collection of architecture and design, photography, books, paintings and more.
  2. Louvre: One of the most famous museums in the world, the Louvre has databases for atlases, prints and drawings, and more.
  3. Yale University Art Gallery: Yale’s eCatalogue can be searched to find works housed in the gallery.
  4. Smithsonian Archives of American Art: Listen to oral history interviews and browse the collections here.
  5. Artists’ Paper Register: Find archives about artists and designers from British collections.
  6. Western History and Genealogy: The Denver Public Library: View images from early Colorado history here.
  7. Victor and Albert Museum: View images from their architecture, fashion and jewelry, contemporary, furniture and Asia collections, plus others.
  8. Explore Art: The Getty Museum: The Getty Museum’s website features a collection overview and lets you browse artists, subjects, acquisitions and types of art.
  9. British Museum: View samples from each of the British Museums galleries, including Americas, Africa, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and Rome, the Middle East, Europe and Asia.
  10. Worcester Art Museum: Search by artist, genre, or place of origin to find important paintings from Early America here.

U.S. History

These websites boast large collections of U.S. history primary documents, including cultural archives, politics and diaries.

  1. American Folklife Center: Find recordings, publications, special collections and more archives relating to American history.
  2. The National Security Archive: Find original, though declassified, national security documents and recordings at the George Washington University library here.
  3. Colonial Williamsburg: The official site for the Colonial Williamsburg museum and center features online exhibits too.
  4. Archiving Early America: Find primary sources related to Colonial America, George Washington and more.
  5. Civil War Primary Documents: This teachers’ guide has a wide range of links to primary sources like The Militia Act, orders from Abraham Lincoln, and other letters, literature, diaries and more.
  6. Teaching with Documents: Lesson Plans from The National Archives: Find primary U.S. history documents and lesson plans for The Great Depression and World War II, the American Revolution, postwar United States, and Contemporary United States.
  7. Core Documents of U.S. Democracy: Access The Bill of Rights, the Constitution, The Federalist Papers, Gettysburg Address and more.
  8. Texas Heritage Online: Find online versions of historical documents relating to Texas history.
  9. DocSouth Collections: UNC Chapel Hill Library: Access digitized versions of exhibitions and collections like “The First Century of the First State University” and “The Church in the Southern Black Community.”
  10. Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database: Search voyage databases, and the African names database to learn more about the slave trade between Africa, Europe, Brazil, the Caribbean and North America.

The Classics and Ancient History

These sites have uncovered primary source materials from Ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece.

  1. EuroDocs: Get transcriptions and translations of historical documents going back to ancient and prehistoric Greece, Cyprus and more.
  2. Perseus Digital Library at Tufts University: Find ancient texts and art, including those found in the new Arabic Collection.
  3. Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: From Israel to Mesopotamia to Rome, find ancient texts and documents here.
  4. Hanover Historical Texts Project: Find ancient European texts, texts from Africa, The Middle East and more.
  5. The Latin Library: Read Persius, Ovid, Livy, Cicero, Augustus and others in their Latin text.
  6. MAVORS: The website for the Institute for Ancient Military History offers samples of Ancient Roman army documents and equipment.
  7. The Quest for Immortality: Treasures of Ancient Egypt: View selected objects and take a virtual tour to see ancient artifacts from Egypt.
  8. Ancient-Greece.org: View maps and photographs of Ancient Greek temples, theaters and more.
  9. Primary Texts: Washington State University: Primary Texts about Ancient Roman history include selections from The Jugurthine War and others.
  10. Timeline: Ancient Rome: Read timelines and translations of original Roman texts like “The Rape of Lucretia.”

Birth and Death Records

Look up birth, death, marriage and divorce records here.

  1. Vitalrec.com: Look up birth certificates, marriage licenses, divorce decrees and more.
  2. Ancestry.com: At Ancestry.com, you can find historical records about the military, immigration and more.
  3. National Center for Health Statistics: Here you can search birth, death, marriage and divorce records by state.
  4. Podunk: This UK site searches birth, marriage and death records.
  5. Public Record Finder: Find public records by state.

Search Engines

Use these search engines to help direct you to the best information out there. Students pursuing an online bachelor’s in Computer Databases may find this resource beneficial to their program.

  1. iResearch Reporter: Find the most valuable search results from this site, which is designed to save you time during large projects.
  2. Google Scholar: Find scholarly material to sort through to make your search more efficient.
  3. Google Patents: Find original patents here.
  4. American Memory: This tool from the Library of Congress lets you browse by topic, too.
  5. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: View images, search the databse and more.

Newspapers and Periodicals

These newspaper and periodical archive sites can go back a few hundred years.

  1. LC Newspapers: Browse current newspapers and archived papers on microfilm from the Library of Congress here.
  2. Newspapers and Periodicals: Search from The Times in England, plus many newspapers in the U.S.
  3. Newslink: Search by state, type, or topic.
  4. NewspaperARCHIVE.com: This database has over 1 billion articles and goes back 240 years.
  5. Google News Archive Search: This search displays your results by time period, making it easier to categorize your findings.
  6. Access: Sign up to use this tool via a public library or K-12 school to access newspapers between 1759-1977.
  7. News Library: Search by state, and even save your search history and favorite articles.

Census

Read original census reports from as far back as the 1700s.

  1. Census and Voter Lists: Search U.S. federal censuses from the 1700s, 1800s and 1900s.
  2. U.S. Census Bureau: Go directly to the U.S. Census Bureau for historical information.
  3. Census Records: The National Archives explains how to find census records from libraries, websites or directly from the Archives.

Government and the Presidents

Here you can find documents, recordings, public papers, photos and more pertaining to Congressional legislation, the Constitution, the JFK assassination and more.

  1. U.S. Copyright Office: Find registration information, restored copyrights and more for music, art and more.
  2. THOMAS: THOMAS is the Library of Congress’ federal legislation research tool, that has information about bills and resolutions, presidential nominations, treaties, and more.
  3. The American Presidency Project: Access public papers, sound recordings, election material and more for presidents like John Quincy Adams, FDR and George W. Bush.
  4. The National Archives: Gain access to the presidential libraries and obtain copies of historical documents. You’ll find photos from World War II, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, Louisiana Purchase, and even Elvis’ letter to President Nixon.
  5. C-SPAN: Find Congressional legislation, documents from the President and Supreme Court decisions here.
  6. POTUS: The Internet Public Library’s POTUS page has audio and video files, election information, historical documents and more, pertaining to all 43 presidents of the United States.
  7. National Security Council: Read speeches and access documents from the National Security Council here.
  8. The White House Proclamations: Read all the proclamations issued by the current President here.
  9. FBI Freedom of Information Act: Check out the Reading Room Index to access FBI declassified documents.
  10. The President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection: Search the JFK Database and JFK Collection Register for photographs, artifacts and more.

Immigration

Verify or discover immigration records from these sites.

  1. Immigration and Emigration: Search New York and Boston passenger lists from the 1820s-1950s here.
  2. Ellis Island Free Search: Search by ship or by passenger name to find immigrants who passed through Ellis Island.
  3. Immigration Records: The National Archives explains its lists of immigration records from Louisiana, Philadelphia and more.

Miscellaneous

This collection of primary source history sites includes the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute, historical recipes and a lot more.

  1. The Teaching With Primary Sources Program: College teachers can find information about finding and using primary sources here.
  2. Veterans and their Families: The National Archives sends records of veterans to next of kin only. This page also includes online historical military documents.
  3. Internet History Sourcebooks Project: Access historical texts regarding topics like science, Islamic, African, Byzantium and more.
  4. Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute: This Stanford Institute has many speeches and papers online.
  5. Historical Recipes of Different Cultures: Find original recipes, supplemented by helpful conversions, from Ancient Rome and Medieval Europe.
  6. Calisphere: This website is “a world or primary sources and more.” You’ll find themed collections about the Gold Rush, The Great Depression and more.
  7. Letters from America’s Wars: Read original letters written during American wartime “ranging from the Revolution to the war in Iraq.”

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