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Finding Primary Sources for History Research: How to Identify and Find Primary Documents from the Internet

How to find books, documents, magazine articles, newspaper articles and other first hand or eyewitness accounts.

Assessing Credibility of A Website

Here are a few questions to ask yourself on assessing the quality of the website you are using:

1. What is the domain of the site? The domain gives you a clue as to origin? Look for .gov/ .edu/ .org/ .int/ in the web address.

  • .edu/ sites come from U.S. academic institutions, and may be indicators of academic quality or thoughtfulness.
  • .gov/ sites come from U.S. state, local, federal or foreign governments; these may be indicators of reliability, accuracy.
  • .org/ sites can be non-profit organizations (museums, institutes, charities); these may indicate advocacy, thoughtfulness, reliability.
  • .int/ sites come from international organizations, United Nations and sites involving treaties and international agreements.
  • .com/ sites come from commercial sites that may be trying to sell or promote something.

2. Is there an "about us" link or "our history"? Read it. Who made the page? What association? What person? What company? Find out more about this producer. 

3. What is the root of the web address. Look at its beginning section. That may tell you who produced or hosts the web page.

4. How old is the information? Is there a date created for the page? OR for the specific link in the page?

5. Does the website seem to have a position on a subject? For? Against? Advocate?

6. What interest might that person, association, organization have in creating this website?

7. Does the page look professional or sloppy? Does it contain ads and if so what kind?

8. Does the website have a "for more research" link? Does it cite sources in its presentation?Bibliographies? Is it purely opinion?

9. Can the information in the webpage be found at another website? Can it verified or duplicated?

10. Conduct a search in google about this website or the person/association/group that created it. Has anyone discussed it? Who has been talking about it in their blogs, websites?

Here are some other links that give you additional tips on assessing your web research:

Evaluating Websites: Tools and Criteria (Cornell U.)

Evaluating Information Found on the Internet (Johns Hopkins U.)

Evaluating Internet Resources (Georgetown University)

How to Find Primary Documents from the Internet

It is not hard to find primary sources on the open Internet search, but you must assess the validity and quality of the source.

Try some of these techniques in GOOGLE

Use these primary source keywords in searches, make sure to try different ones.

  • documents
  • texts
  • sources
  • "primary sources"
  • "personal narratives"
  • diaries
  • interviews
  • oral history
  • testimony

SAMPLE TOPIC: Documents of the Salem Witch Trials

  • Search Examples
    • salem and witch and documents
  • use quotation marks "to find phrases" "to find words next to each other". Put in quotation marks "primary sources" as a synonym for documents or texts
    • Example: salem and witch and "primary sources"
  • if you want to find synonyms in the same search, use OR in capitols (and your OR statements in parentheses).
    • Example: ​​​salem  and ("witch trials" OR witchcraft) and (documents​ OR "primary sources" OR "original texts)

SAMPLE TOPIC: Segregation in the United States

  • Search Techniques
    • use OR to find synonyms in the same search strategy:
      • Example: (segregated OR segregating OR segregation OR "jim crow" OR "separate but equal")
    • combine with some synonyms terms relating to primary document
      • Example: (documents OR sources OR diaries) and (segregated OR segregating OR segregation OR "jim crow" OR "separate but equal") 

These advanced techniques will only work in GOOGLE:

use formulation site:xx followed by a two letter country code, to find web sites based in that country. Find here the two letter codes This will find sites based in that country.

  • Example: Cuba and terrorism and documents and site:cu (will find sites in Cuba relating to terrorism)
  • Example: "armenian genocide" site:tr (will find information relating to the topic from Turkish websites)

consider searching for your topics in only certain domains of the Internet by entering these terms at the end of our search. Government sites (site:gov) or American sites (site:edu, may be inclined toward more reliability. You must assess this!)

  • site:gov (will find only U.S. or State government documents)
  • site:edu (will find only U.S. academic institution sites)
  • site:org (will find only non-profit sites, museums, organizations)
  • site:int (will find only sites that are "international" such as U.N. organizations)


  • "bracero program" and california site:gov
  • "oral histories" site:edu
  • "human trafficking"  documents site:int