Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Fun with Primary Resources - Seriously!!

By Stephanie Bearce

Being a nonfiction writer, I tend to geek out over research. I love digging through old photos, visiting historical sites, and delving into library stacks. The happiest of all research is when I get to dig into primary resources. So many cool things!!!!

I've read Alexander Graham Bell's laboratory notes, visited L.M. Montgomery's home, and climbed the same cliffs as Mary Anning. Primary sources can add a whole new dimension to your work.

For those of you who are new to nonfiction - primary sources are documents or artifacts closest to the topic of investigation and were often created during the period you are writing about. Diaries, newspapers, government documents, letters, memoirs, and oral histories are all examples of primary sources.

It's always exciting when you can make a trip to a historical site, but it's not always practical. Good news for when we have to be armchair researchers - the internet has some amazing websites that bring the primary sources right to your desk. And I've sourced them for you.

Here are some of the best websites for primary sources dealing with American History. Enjoy the research adventure!!
100 Milestone Documents
Includes documents that chronicle United States history from 1776 to 1965.
American Journeys
yewitness accounts of North American exploration, from Vikings in Canada in 1000 AD to the diaries of mountain men in the Rockies 800 years later.
American Presidency
Documents related to historical and current U.S. presidencies, such as speeches, official papers, and executive orders.
American Life Histories
Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940.
C19 Index
Full text of North American periodicals from 1740 through the 19th century.
Chronicling America
Search and read historic newspapers published from 1690 to the present.
FBI Vault
Scanned and redacted – images of FBI files of famous individuals and groups.
New York Public Library
30,000 images of New York City, costume, design, U.S. history, etc. from books, magazines, and newspapers, as well as original photographs, prints, and, postcards, mostly created before 1923.
Printed Ephemera
Advertisements, forms, programs, catalogs, timetables time tables capture the everyday activities of ordinary people.
The Sixties
Primary documents and personal narratives, 1960–1974
World Digital Library
Collection of print and visual resources

Stephanie Bearce is an author, speaker, and teacher. You can learn more about her at www.stephaniebearce.com


  1. Thank you for a fabulous list of sites to explore Stephanie!

  2. WOW! THANK YOU SO MUCH, STEPHANIE, for this TREASURE CHEST of resources!!! This will TRULY be helpful in our own research needs!

  3. Appreciate your list of sources, Stephanie. You're so inspiring! Thanks.