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Finding Primary Source Materials: Search Tools

Searching the UNC Catalog

When you search the library catalog, begin with a simple keyword search to identify one or more relevant resources. Keyword terms used to find primary sources can include:

- Personal narratives - Diaries
- Correspondence         - Letters
- Interviews                            - Autobiography
- Memoirs - Maps
- Pamphlets - Speeches
- Sources - Archives
- Archival Resources  


Examples of keyword searches might look like:

Once you identify appropriate items, Library of Congress (LC) Subject Headings can be used to narrow your search and link you to similar resources with the same subject heading. Subject headings are found under the "This item is about" section.

For example, a search conducted using a subject heading is: Slavery--United States--Personal narratives.

Online Guides to Archives and Manuscripts Collections

Many archival institutions put finding aids, or guides to their collections on the web. They also may have some of their collections digitized, and available online.


WorldCat is a database of millions of catalog records from several thousand libraries. You can search WorldCat for primary source materials held by these libraries in several formats: print, microfilm, and electronic. Also, some libraries create catalog records for useful websites, including those containing digitized primary sources.

When searching WorldCat, you can use some of the same terms for primary sources that are used in searching UNC library's catalog. See the box labeled "Searching the UNC catalog" on this page.

Follow these steps to begin searching for primary sources in WorldCat:

  • Open WorldCat
  • Enter your topic word(s) in the first search box.
  • Enter an appropriate keyword such as "sources" or "diaries" in the second box.
  • Try changing the second drop-down box to "Subject" to see if this improves your results.

Note the "Limit Type to" options below the search boxes. You can limit to "Archival Materials" for instance, or "Internet Resources" for digital collections.

Depending on what limits you choose, you may retrieve a wide range of results, including archival collections, books, ebooks, and databases at other institutions to which UNC may not have access.  However, the results may also include freely available websites, which may be of particular interest.

Just follow the links in the records to find the material you are interested in. If you locate a book, journal, or microfilmed item in WorldCat that UNC does not own, you may request it through interlibrary loan.

Search Engines

Search engines can be useful for locating specific primary source documents. If you use Google, enter the names of specific documents in quotation marks.

  • "war powers resolution"
  • "Freedom of Information Act"

For broader searches, add primary source keyword terms, such as documents, primary sources, or papers to your search.

  • "World War II" "primary sources"
  • "FDR" "speeches"
  • Last Updated: Sep 27, 2021 9:06 AM
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