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New Jersey Catholic History

This site is designed to provide those interested in learning about Catholic history pertaining to New Jersey a resource for connecting to relevant materials on this subject.

Where are Primary Sources?

Primary sources can be found in many different places, but the most common places to find them are libraries, archives, museums, and in the case of digitized primary sources, online databases.

Libraries carry many primary sources, especially newspapers (often on microfilm or in a database), memoirs, autobiographies, maps, audio and video materials, and published collections of letters, diaries, and interviews. Many of these can be found using the library's catalog. Many library materials can be borrowed.

Archives are collections of materials, often rare or unique, generated or created by individuals or organizations, that are of historical value and which are kept and preserved for the use of current and future communities. Many archives are located within libraries or museums, and are usually dedicated to a particular organization, geographic area, subject, or some combination of these. Materials that are collected by archives are often collections of papers, manuscripts, photographs, maps, drawings, sound or video records, objects, and many other formats, many of which are primary sources.

Museums collect, preserve, and display objects of historical or cultural significance. Primary sources found in museums include artifacts, art, maps, tablets, sound and video recordings, furniture, and realia.

Databases of primary sources often include sigitized or scanned primary sources that are related by subject, time period, or institutions that maintain the original sources. Several primary source databases can be found via the SHU Libraries website.

What is a Primary Source?

A primary source is a first-hand or contemporary account of an event or topic.

Primary sources are the most direct evidence of a time or event because they were created by people or things that were there at the time or event. These sources offer original thought and have not been modified by interpretation. Primary sources are original materials, regardless of format.

primary source example - constitution and bylaws

Examples of Primary Sources

  • letters
  • diaries
  • minutes
  • photographs
  • artifacts
  • interviews
  • sound and video recordings
  • oral histories
  • newspaper articles
  • journal articles
  • research studies
  • memoirs
  • autobiographies

Primary sources may be transformed from their original format into a newer one, such as when materials are published or digitized, but the contents are still primary. There are many primary sources available online today, but many more are still available in their original format, in archives, museums, libraries, historical sites, and elsewhere.

What is Not a Primary Source?

Secondary Sources

Secondary sources usually use primary sources and offer interpretation, analysis, or commentary. These resources often present primary source information with the addition of hindsight or historical perspective. Common examples include criticisms, histories, and magazine, journal, or newspaper articles written after the fact. Some secondary sources may also be considered primary or tertiary sources - the definition of this term is not set in stone.

Tertiary Sources

Tertiary sources are further developments of secondary sources, often summaries of information found in primary and secondary sources and collecting many sources together. Some examples of tertiary sources are encyclopedias and textbooks. Again, this term is not set in stone - some sources may be both secondary and tertiary.

Additional Primary & Secondary Source Sites

Find out more!

There are many good explanations and discussions of primary sources and how to use them. For more information, check out these sites:

Primary sources at Yale: What are primary sources?

ArchivesHub: Using Archives

University of Maryland Guide to Primary Sources