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American History Research Guide: Find Primary Sources

Using QuickSearch to find primary sources

For more general information on using QuickSearch, see the Home and the Find Books tab.

Terms to search for:
There are a number of subject terms used in library catalogs, which, when they appear at the end of a subject heading, tell you that a title you've found is a primary source. The most important and widely used is sources. For example: united states history civil war, 1861-1865 sources.

Here's a reasonably complete list of these special subject terms:
sources OR archives OR diaries OR correspondence OR speeches OR interviews OR personal narratives OR oral history OR newspapers OR pictorial (make sure to use OR in caps)

- Go into Advanced Search in QuickSearch. Search sources OR any of the other terms that might be relevant to your research in the first search box, and select Subject and contains in the drop-down menus to the right. This should limit the results of your search just to primary sources.
- In the second box, search for history contained in the subject field and any other subjects you know that relate to your topic.
- You may want to add a search line, then add some keywords to your search; a keyword search searches all fields, so don't select a field in that drop-down menu.

Some additional search tips:
- QuickSearch searches across all the Resources Types. If your search results has many sources that are not primary sources, use the Resource Type limit on the left to limit just to books or to other types that seem relevant. Alternatively, when you construct your initial advanced search, you can limit to Books as your Resource Type on the right.
- Any search result in QuickSearch is, by default, sorted, arranged by Relevance. Under Filter My Results on the left, you can Sort by and choose Date-Oldest to get reverse chronological order. Alternatively, in Advanced Search, you can limit by date of publication on the right.

Primary Sources in WorldCat

You can use WorldCat, a worldwide library catalog, to search for primary sources beyond Rutgers. Equivalent search strategies to those described above can be used in Advanced Search in WorldCat. An additional, very useful feature here is the option to limit to "Archival Material" under "Limit Type to." This will limit your search to unique primary sources, to material found in libraries' archives.

For more on WorldCat, see Other Library Catalogs under the Find Books tab.

Major Microfilm Sets

Microfilm is an older, preservation format. Primary sources are miniaturized on what looks like old camera film. You need to use a microfilm machine to magnify the text and create copies. Machines and most of these sets are located in the Microforms Room in the basement of Alexander Library. Ask at the Help Desk for help in locating the sets, using the machines and printing or making PDF copies.

Papers of Jane Addams, 1860-1960
Alexander Microfilm 2431; 90 reels
Guide: Alexander Reference HV28.A33 1996

American Culture Series: Titles in the Field of Economics
Alexander Microfilm 2180; 37 reels
Guides: Alexander Reference E156 .A583 and Z1215 .U55
This is a valuable collection of early texts in economics, mostly from the nineteenth century. Navigating through the guides to a particular title can be difficult. To search by title or subject, start with the first guide, E156 .A583, and identify an author or an author and title. Then go to the second guide, Z1215 .U55, which lists the titles on each reel. This guide is arranged into eight topical sections and within each section the titles are arranged alphabetically by author.

American Culture Series: Titles in the Field of History
Alexander Microfilm 2181; 167 reelsGuides: Alexander Reference E156 .A583 and Z1215 .U56 For the use of the guides, see American Culture Series: Titles in the Field of Economics, above.

American Culture Series: Titles in the Field of Sciences
Alexander Microfilm 2639; 63 reels
Guides: E156 .A583 and Q158 .E37 1978
For the use of the guides, see American Culture Series: Titles in the Field of Economics, above.

American Labor Unions' Constitutions and Proceedings, 1836-1982
Alexander Microfilm 2243; 491 reels Guide: Alexander Reference Z7164 .L1 N22
This set is supplemented by American Labor Unions, Update; microfiche 383.

American Women’s Diaries: New England Women
Alexander Microfilm 2445; 21 reels
Guide: Alexander Reference HQ1412 .G84 1984

American Women’s Diaries: Western, Southern Women, New England WomenDouglass Library Microfilm 21, 22, and 102; 35, 34, and 21 reels, respectivelyDouglass Reference HQ1412 .G85 1991Also include autobiographies, biographies, and oral histories.

Archives of the Settlement Movement
Alexander Microfilm 2837; 74 reels
Guide:  HV4194.A73 1990

Black Abolitionist Papers, 1830-1865
Alexander Microfilm 2708; 17 reels
Guide: Alexander Reference E449.B625 1981
Alexander stacks has a five volume set of about ten percent of the titles on microfilm set at  E449.B624 1985.

Black Literature, 1827-1940
Alexander Microfiche 406Guide: Alexander Reference PS508 .N3 B25
There is a CD-ROM index to this set installed on a PC to the left of the reference desk in Alexander Library.

Civil Rights During the Johnson Administration, 1963-1969
Alexander Microfilm 2598; 69 reelsGuide: Alexander Reference E185.61.C58

Cointelpro: the Counterintelligence Program of the FBI
Alexander Microfilm 2830; 30 reels
Files relating to surveillance the Communist Party, the Black Panthers, white hate groups and other organizations.

Communist Infiltration of the SCLC: FBI Investigation File
Alexander Microfilm 2828; 9 reels
File on the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, including J. Edgar Hoover's official and confidential file on Martin Luther King Jr.

Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) Papers
Alexander Microfilm 2774; 43 reels

Early American Newspapers (1704-1820)
This set is in the process of being relocated. Ask for help at the Help Desk in the Microforms Room.

Early State Papers
Government Documents Microfilm Cabinets 20A-H & 21A-B, 721 reels
Guide: Alexander Reference Z1223.5.A1U47
We have the legislative records, statutory laws, and constitutional records for the states east of the Mississippi.

Emma Goldman Papers
Douglass Microfilm 3; 69 reels
Guide: Douglass Reference HX843.7. G65E55
Goldman was an important anarchists leader and writer in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Gerritsen Collection of Women’s History
Douglass microfiche 376; 17,555.
Douglass microfilm 127 ; 244 reels
Guides: Douglass and Alexander Reference HQ1121.G43
All of the individual titles within this set are indexed in IRIS.

History of Women
Alexander microfilm 2868; 1248 reels
Guides: Alexander, Camden, and Dana Reference HQ1121.R474 1981
All of the individual titles within this set are indexed in IRIS.

History of the Vietnam War
Alexander Microfiche 392
Guide: Alexander Reference: DS557.7 .H57 1987
We have parts one through eight of ten parts of this very large set. Part three includes extensive material on the anti-war movement.

Martin Luther King, Jr. FBI File
Douglass Microfilm 8; 16
reelsGuide: Douglass Reference E185.97.K5M37 1984
For portions of King's and file and other files online, see:

Pamphlets in American History
Microfilm Cabinets 10 and 11 in Alexander Library
Guide: Alexander Reference E173.P35 and E173.P354
All of the individual titles within this set are indexed in IRIS.

Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony
Douglass Microfilm 5; 45 reels
Guide: Camden, Dana, Douglass Reference HQ1413 .S689P37 1992; Alexander Reference Z6616.S689P37 1992

Papers of Eugene V. Debs, 1834-1945
Alexander Microfilm 2319; 21 reels
Guide: Alexander Reference HX84 .D3P36 1983Debs was a leader of the Socialist Party in the early twentieth century and the Socialist candidate for president in 1912.

Papers of the League of Women Voters 1918-1974
Alexander Microfilm 2558; 64 reels
Guide: Alexander Reference JK1881.P36 1985

Papers of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789
Government Documents Microfilm Cabinet 2F-I; 204 reels

Guide: Government Documents Reference GS4.20

Papers of the NAACP
Alexander Microfilm 2609; 288 reels
Guides: Alexander Reference E185.61 .N37
We have several parts of this very extensive collection.

Papers of W.E.B. DuBois
Alexander Microfilm 2670; 89 reels
Guide: Alexander Reference Z6616.D8M35 1981

Paul Robeson Collection
Dana Microfilm 81, Camden Microfilm  E185.97 .R63R6 1991; 9 reels
Guides: Alexander and Camden Reference  E185.97 .R63R6 1991

Records of ante-bellum southern plantations from the Revolution through the Civil War
Alexander Microfilm 2499; 14 reels
Guide: Alexander reference F213.R42
We have just series D.

Records of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs (1895-1992)
Douglass Microfilm 23; 41 reels
Guides: Alexander and Douglass Reference E185.86 .N38R43 1994

Socialist Party of America Papers, 1897-1963 & 1919-1976, addendum
Alexander Microfilm 2658-59; 180 reels
Guide: Alexander Reference HX83.D78

State Slavery Statutes (1789-1865)
Alexander Microfiche 412Guide: Alexander Reference KF4545.S5A127 1989
Every statute enacted in a Southern state pertaining to slavery.

Thomas A. Edison papers, Selective Microfilm Edition
Alexander Microfilm  2673; 193 reels
Guide: Alexander Reference Z6616 .E3G84
Parts have been digitized by the Edison papers project at Rutgers:

U.S. Census Bureau, Decennial Censuses
The individual responses to the census bureau questionnaires, known as the census schedules, are made public and published on microfilm 72 years after the census is taken. The Libraries own most of the available censuses for New Jersey and some for other states. The titles vary. To search for a particular census, try a “begins with” subject search in IRIS. For example, for 1920: “united states census 14th.”

Voices of the Women's Movement, 1850-1900
Alexander Microfilm 2625; 28 reels

Women's Studies Manuscript Collections from the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College
Series 2: Women in National Politics, part A: Democrats
Alexander Microfilm 2872; 14 reels
Guide: Alexander Reference HQ1236.5 .U6G8

Women's Studies Manuscript Collections from the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College
Series 3: Sexuality, Sex Education, and Reproductive Rights
Alexander Microfilm 2873; 39 reels
Guide: Alexander Reference HQ766 .G855 1994

World War II Combat Interviews
Alexander Microfiche 455; 573 microfiche
Guide: Alexander Reference D811 .A2W67

Library Databases for Primary Sources

Unless noted, all of the following are fulltext databases. Some of them default to searching in fulltext. Unless you're looking for something very specific, searching in fulltext can sometimes produce an overwhelming and not very useful search result. If this happens, try limiting by date, using additional keywords, or searching just in the records, rather than in fulltext. For additional search tips, see the Find Articles tab.

African American Communities: Wide range of sources primarily from Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and towns and cities in North Carolina.

African American Newspapers (1827-1902): nine titles in total.

American Civil War: Letters and Diaries- Cross searchable with Social & Cultural History below.

American History in Video: Mostly films from PBS, etc. but includes early newsreels and other primary sources.

American Periodicals Series (1740-1900): Popular US magazines.

American State Papers (1789-1838): US government documents.

America's Historical Newspapers, 1741-1922: Fulltext of over 1,500 titles.

ArchiveGrid: Fulltext finding aids from US archives.

Archives Unbound: Federal Response to Radicalism in the 1960s-: FBI Files. Fulltext. Cross searchable with Federal Surveillance of African Americans below.

Archives Unbound: Federal Surveillance of African Americans, 1920-1984: FBI Files. Fulltext. Cross searchable with Federal Response to Radicalism above.

Black Thought and Culture: Books, newspapers, speeches, correspondence, etc. Cross searchable with Social & Cultural History below.

C19: The Nineteenth Century Index: Variety of sources, including the Nineteenth Century Short Title Catalogue and Poole's Index to Periodical Literature.

CamdenBase: Primary sources relating to Camden, NJ back to 1946. Includes select fulltext of the Courier-Post from 1945 to 2003.

Chicago Defender (1909-1975): Most widely circulated, influential African-American newspaper of the twentieth century. Cross searchable with five other ProQuest Historical Newspapers. See below ProQuest Historical Newspapers Combined Search.

Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers: 1860-1922.

Declassified Documents Reference System: Declassified federal government documents, mostly post WWII to the 1990s.

Digital Sanborn Maps: New Jersey: Original maps of NJ communities, 1884-1950.

Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans, 1639-1800: All books, pamphlets, broadsides published the US; records in the catalog with links to fulltext.

Early English Books Online (EEBO): Books, periodicals, tracts, etc. printed in English before 1700; records in the catalog with links to fulltext.

Electronic Enlightenment: Over 58,000 letters written by British, American, French, German, and other Enlightenment figures.

Ethnic NewsWatch: Ethnic newspapers, 1959 to present.

Eighteenth Century Collections Online: All books printed in English, 1701-1800; records in the catalog with links to fulltext.

Everyday Life of Women in America, c. 1800-1920: books, magazines, pamphlets, broadsides.

GenderWatch (1970-present): Articles relating to gender across the disciplines. From scholarly was well as advocacy and community publications. Mostly fulltext.

Gerritsen Collection (1543-1945): History of feminism, 1543-1945; over 4,000 fulltext monographs and 300 periodicals; mostly in English, German and French.

Global Commodities: Trade, Exploration, and Cultural Exchange- 1223-1890. Primary and secondary sources relating to fifteen commodities, including coffee, cotton, opium, and oil.

HathiTrust Digital Library: A large, fulltext library. Bigger than Google Books, better search options. Login as an RU user in the upper right to take advantage of all features, including creating personal, shareable collections.

HeinOnline: North American law journals from as early as 1852; misc. legal material, including US Congressional Record and earlier titles.

HistoryMakers: Video oral history collection of prominent African Americans. Each interview divided into "stories," brief clips that describe a particular life event. Will eventually comprise 5,000 interviews.

Independent Voices: Alternative press newspapers, magazines, and journals published in the U.S. in the later twentieth century, mostly the 1960s and 1970s.

iPoll Databank: Public opinion polls, 1935 to present.

JSTOR: Major scholarly journals back to the first issue.

Literature Online (LION): Major literary works in English from all periods.

Making of the Modern Law: Legal Treatises, 1800-1926: British and American.

Making of the Modern Law: U.S. Supreme Court Records and Briefs, 1832-1978

Manuscript Women's Letters and Diaries: From the American Antiquarian Society, approximately 1750-1950. Cross searchable with Social & Cultural History below.

Music Magazine Archive: Twenty-three popular music magazines from 1946 to 2016.

New York Times: 1851 to three years prior to the current year. Cross searchable with five other ProQuest Historical Newspapers. See below ProQuest Historical Newspapers Combined Search.

Nineteenth Century Collections Online- Eight topical "archives," mostly European, but includes some US material.

Nineteenth Century U.S. Newspapers

North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries, and Oral Histories: 1800-2000. Cross searchable with Social & Cultural History below.

North American Women's Letters and Diaries: Colonial Times to 1950: Cross searchable with Social & Cultural History below.

Oral History Online: English-speaking men and women, all walks of life, mid-nineteenth century to the present. Cross searchable with Social & Cultural History below.

PAIS Archive: Public policy articles and essays from 1915 to 1976; no fulltext.

Periodical Index Online: Mostly humanities, social science journals; mostly in English; predominately twentieth century, but begins with 1665 and has some coverage of twenty-first century; mostly records, little fulltext.

Philadelphia Inquirer (1860-2001): Cross searchable with five other ProQuest Historical Newspapers. See below ProQuest Historical Newspapers Combined Search.

Pittsburgh Gazette (1786-2003): Cross searchable with five other ProQuest Historical Newspapers. See below ProQuest Historical Newspapers Combined Search.

ProQuest Historical Newspapers Combined Search: Cross search the Chicago Defender (1909-1975), New York Times (1851+), the Philadelphia Inquirer (1860-2001), the Pittsburgh Gazette (1786-2003), the Wall Street Journal (1889-1993), and the Washington Post (1877-1993).

Reader' Guide Retrospective: Popular US magazines, 1890-1984; no fulltext.

Slavery, Abolition, & Social Justice, 1490-2007: Primary documents on the history of slavery worldwide, with maps, thematic essays, etc.

Social & Cultural History: Suite of cross searchable databases. Included:  American Civil War: Letters and Diaries; Black Thought and Culture; British and Irish Women's Letters and Diaries (1500-1950); North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries and Oral Histories; North American Women's Letters and Diaries to 1950; Oral History Online.

Social Explorer (1790 to present): Lets you browse or produce maps and reports from Census Bureau data and religious data from the Religious Congregations and Membership Study.

Travel Writing, Spectacle, and World History: Women's Travel Writing and Correspondence: Primary sources worldwide from the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard; also maps, photographs, ephemera.

TV-NewsSearch: Vanderbilt Television News Archive: Network news, 1968 to present; clips of some programs available; others can be requested.

Understanding Hate in America: Six pro-Klan and two anti-Klan  newspapers published between 1920 and 1932.

US Congressional Publications: fulltext of House and Senate hearings, 1824-2003; reports and documents, 1970-present; Federal Register and Congressional Record, 1985-present; and lots more.

U.S. Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1980: All types of Congressional documents except hearings; executive branch documents if reported to or printed by the Congress.

Wall Street Journal (1889-1993): Cross searchable with five other ProQuest Historical Newspapers. See above ProQuest Historical Newspapers Combined Search.

Washington Post (1877-1993): Cross searchable with five other ProQuest Historical Newspapers. See above ProQuest Historical Newspapers Combined Search.

Women and Social Movements International (1840-present): Letters, diaries, memoirs of activists; publications of women's organizations, etc.

Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000: Books, articles, pamphlets, posters, interviews, etc.

American History Librarian - New Brunswick

Tom Glynn's picture
Tom Glynn
Alexander Library
Rutgers University
169 College Ave.
New Brunswick, NJ
(848) 932-6105

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