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Finding Primary Sources @ Pitt: Finding Primary Sources

Learn to distinguish between primary and secondary sources; learn strategies for finding primary sources.

Tools for Finding Primary Sources

Library Catalogs

  • Search PITTCat+ to find primary source materials at ULS libraries.
  • Search WorldCat to find collections at thousands of libraries worldwide. Use the Advanced Search feature to limit by format or publication date.

Finding Aids

A finding aid is "a description of records that gives the repository physical and intellectual control over the materials and that assists users to gain access to and understand the materials." Source: Richard Pearce-Moses. Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology. Chicago: The Society of American Archivists, 2005.

Use finding aids to locate processed archival collections in archives, libraries, and museums. Finding aids are increasingly available online and freely accessible.

Reference & Other Print Sources

Make use of the many excellent print resources that are available to find primary source materials.  These include:

  • Bibliographies
  • Film, Literature, and Periodical Indexes
  • Biographical Resources
  • Encyclopedias, Dictionaries, Handbooks
  • Secondary Sources (search the text, footnotes, and bibliographies for references to primary sources used)

Internet Search Engines

  • Use the Internet to find primary source materials by adding primary source specific terms (see Searching PITTCat+) to a Search Engine search. For example, "Civil War + Pennsylvania soldiers + diaries."


Search PittCat+

Search PITTCat+ for articles, books, & more



Adding primary source-related keywords to your PittCat+ search will help you to more easily locate primary source materials. For example, if you need primary sources on the American Civil War, search the phrase "United States Civil War" with the keyword "diary" (i.e., "United States Civil War" diary). Other keywords that can be used to locate primary sources are:

  • sources
  • archives
  • correspondence
  • interviews
  • notebooks
  • personal narratives
  • speeches
  • writings
  • fiction
  • reports
  • pictorial works
  • songs and music
  • cases
  • case study


Limiting by Content Type, Genre, or Date of Publication

You may also refine your search results by content type, genre, or date of publication.

To limit a search by content type or genre, click on the "more..." link to open the Content Type or Genre boxes. Check the "Include" box for content or genre appropriate to your need, such as archival material, image, manuscript, map, music recording/score, newspaper article, personal narrative, photograph, play, poster, special collection, and video recording.

Limiting sources to a particular date of publication will help you to locate contemporary sources published at the time of an event. For example, if you are studying British Literature during WWII, refine your search results by using the publication date limiter to retrieve novels published only during the years 1939 to 1945.