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Primary Sources: Canadian: Get started

Primary sources

Primary sources are first hand observations of a time, person or event, or material culture associated with a time, person or event.

Some types

  • newspaper and magazine articles
  • diaries
  • letters
  • government reports
  • minutes
  • advertisements
  • photographs
  • military, church, synagogue records
  • shopping lists
  • Twitter tweets
  • YouTube videos and comments

Analyzing primary sources

When examining a primary source, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who is the author/creator and what was their relationship to the event or issue?
  • Why would the creator have produced the source in this way?
  • Was the source made for personal use only, so intended to be private?  Such as a diary. Or was it created for others to see? Such as a newspaper article, parliamentary debates, a Tweet. How might the author's approach differ depending on the intended audience?
  • What biases or interests might have influenced how the source was designed?
  • Can the information conveyed in source be corroborated by other documents created for the same event or in the same period? 

Here's something to test using these questions: it is page 1 of National Action Committee on the Status of Women MEMO, March 1983. Click on the image to link to the whole document.

NAC MEMO from March 1983
Available via Rise UP! Feminist Digital Archive.

Two ways to find primary sources acquired by the Library

1. The Databases page has a Database Types drop down menu. Select "Primary Sources" to retrieve databases.


2. This search in Omni, the Library's catalogue targets records describing primary sources. Give it a try.

  1. Run the pre-configured search in the Library catalogue, Omni, which automatically populates the first row with keywords that will retrieve records with, for example, diaries, correspondence, and speeches. THEN ...
  2. In the 2nd row add your own keyword(s) that relate to your topic. Separate keywords with AND to ensure all terms appear in the records you retrieve.

Here's an example using poverty AND laws 

Help citing primary sources