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