Central Library

Definition and Examples of Primary Sources

What is a primary source?

The definition of primary source materials is not always a straightforward one. While some researchers believe when and why the document was created determines its eligibility as a primary source, others hold that how the document is used classifies whether or not it is a primary source. Primary sources at the State Library Resource Center:

  • Refer to a first hand account or evidence of an event or topic
  • Use the words of the witness or the initial recorder of an event
  • Reflect the viewpoint of the observer as well
  • May be used to produce a secondary source

Examples of primary sources include:

  • Autobiographies and memoirs
  • Letters and correspondence
  • Original documents, such as vital records
  • Photographs and recordings
  • Records of an organization
  • Newspaper or magazine articles that are written at the time of an event
  • Journals and diaries
  • Speeches
  • Artifacts

For more information on library research and the use of historic library materials, consult our Guide to Library Research.