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Historic Preservation: Primary Sources

A research guide to finding books, articles, and other resources in Historic Preservation

What are Primary Sources?

photo of an exhibit in the Library of Congress
photo of the Library of Congress by David Mark from Pixabay


Primary sources are documents or artifacts that provide first-hand evidence. We use this evidence to establish facts -- facts about an artifact, facts about history, or facts about the relationship between an artifact and history.

Almost anything can be a primary source. Examples include census records, court records, newspaper articles, photographs, architectural plans, buildings, and everyday objects.

Primary sources are different from secondary sources, such as journal articles. Secondary sources do not provide first-hand evidence; instead, they analyze evidence provided by other sources.

To find primary sources, see the links below, or ask a librarian. You may also be interested in the Newspapers guide or the Magazines and Advertisements guide.

Newspaper Databases

These databases are listed in (approximately) chronological order. Databases containing the oldest content are at the top; databases containing the newest content are at the bottom.

Magazines in Library Databases

This is a list of library databases that contain magazines. See also magazines on the internet and magazines in Simpson Library.

Other Databases of Primary Sources

UMW pays for subscriptions to these databases. Access may require a UMW username and password.

See also our newspaper databases and magazine databases (not included on this list).

For more databases that contain primary sources, see this list on the History and American Studies guide.

Primary Sources Online

Primary sources for the Fredericksburg area are on the Local Resources (Fredericksburg) page. For more primary sources, see this list on the History guide.

Primary sources in the library

Search the library's main search box to find diaries, journals, memoirs, collections of the papers of notable people, and published collections of primary sources. Try using these words in your searches:

  • Sources
  • Personal narratives
  • Diaries
  • Correspondence
  • Interviews
  • Speeches
  • Facsimiles

By default, library search results do not include newspaper articles. To search for newspaper articles, use the library's newspapers search, or consult the Newspapers guide.


Use ArchiveGrid to locate physical archives around the world and search their contents.

Here at UMW, check out the Special Collections and University Archives in Simpson Library, which houses rare books and archival materials relating to the history of the Fredericksburg area and of the institution. To make an appointment, call (540) 654-2045 or email This department also maintains our Digital Collections, including collections of photographs, materials relating to James Farmer, oral histories compiled by university faculty and students, and a rich array of other items.