Part One of this thread, Finding the Real Thing, explained what primary resources are and how to find them online. But many of these hidden treasures are not online. Many in fact are in (gasp) books. How do you ferret them out from our underground book stacks?

The good news is, the Library of Congress Subject Headings system (we librarians call it the LCSH) includes helpful keywords, that will guide you to primary sources. Include keywords like the following in your searches to retrieve primary sources:

  • sources
  • manuscripts
  • diaries
  • correspondence
  • archives or archival resources
  • notebooks
  • personal narratives
  • sketchbooks
  • pictorial works

For example, to find primary sources about the Civil War, search in the online catalog on “united states civil war sources.” Be sure to choose “Subject” from the drop-down box on the search page. And include “united states” in your search to exclude other civil wars.

Finding this kind of resource sometimes is only half the battle. Deciphering old handwriting can be a real challenge. Be prepared to spend some time teaching yourself to read a 16th century English hand, or even a 19th century one. There are many helpful books here, as well as online sites. Here are a few of the latter:

Happy hunting!


One thought on “Finding the Real Thing: Part 2

  1. Fantastic post Sue! I’ve always wondered how scholars read old handwritten documents, diaries, letters, etc… I didn’t realize that it is an acquirable skill and that there are not only print and digital resources devoted to learning this skill, but that it is also a field of study. Wow!

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