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UTSC Finding Primary Sources

Learn what primary sources are and how to find them.

Guides for Finding Primary Sources

Primary Source Collections

  • Check out our Subjects A-Z list, which includes a selection of primary sources for different subject areas.
  • Explore Discover Archives, a shared portal for exploring archival holdings at the University of Toronto and its federated colleges. The database contains descriptions of material related to the University of Toronto's history, as well as records from private individuals, families, businesses, and organizations.
  • The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library has digital and print collections of primary sources.

LibrarySearch for Primary Sources

The UTL LibrarySearch does not have a way to produce lists of primary sources. However, there are a few strategies to use to fin primary sources in LibrarySearch:

  • Format
  • Subject
  • Author
  • Publication Date

See below for info on how to use these strategies!

Search by Format for Primary Sources

Search for your topic keywords in LibrarySearch, then looking at the left-hand menu for filtering your results, click "show more" under Format. Under the format options, look for formats that are likely to contain primary sources:

  • Archival Material/Manuscripts
  • Audio
  • Datasets
  • Government Documents
  • Images
  • Maps
  • Newspapers
  • Manuscripts
  • Realia (that means objects)
  • Text Resources
  • Videos
  • And More!!

This screenshot shows some likely primary source format options selected in a search for the topic of eugenics.

image of library search results with some format options selected with a check mark

Note: You can also refine the publication dates to make sure that the sources are published within your topic time period.

Note: You will have to look at the results and consider them individually according to the context of your topic to determine if they are primary sources for your research.

Search by Subject for Primary Sources

Use Advanced Search to search for one of the following words (search as subject for the kind of primary source you are looking for) along with your other keywords to find the primary source material you seek:

  • sources
  • biography
  • correspondence
  • diaries
  • personal narratives
  • interviews
  • pamphlets

Note: You can also refine the publication dates to make sure that the sources are published within your topic time period.

image of library advanced search with drop-down menu options set to subject.

image of library advanced search with drop-down options set to subject


Subjects (or Subject headings) are used to identify items on a specific topic and to collocate items on the same topic. The following Subjects can be used to find primary sources:

Subject Headings

What Does This Include?



Collections or discussions of the person's autograph or handwriting (H 1110)

Francis, of Assisi, Saint, 1182-1226 -- Autogaphs


Biographical works focus on the personal aspects of the individual's life, critical works on the individual's professional, intellectual, or artistic achievements (H 1330)

Pakistan -- Biography

Crusades -- Biography


Official correspondence or correspondence involving corporate entities, including heads of state acting in their official capacity, is not covered (H 1480)

19th century -- Correspondence

Description and Travel

Names of both cities and larger places for descriptive works and accounts of travel, including the history of travel, in those places (H 1530)

Europe, Eastern -- Description and travel -- Early works to 1800


Registers or records of personal experiences, observations, thoughts, or feelings, kept daily or at frequent intervals (H 1538)

Scott, F. R (Francis Reginald), 1899-1985 -- Diaries

Gay men -- Sexual behavior -- United States -- 21st century -- Diaries

Early Works to 1800

Early printed works and manuscripts, editions, and post-1800 adaptations and reassembled works (H 1576)

Italy -- Early works to 1800


Collections of writings, such as legal documents, letters, diaries, family papers, etc., compiled for use by students, scholars, etc., in their research on the history of those topics, and for works discussing source materials of all types.
It is also used under names of persons for works discussing the individual’s sources of ideas or inspiration for his endeavors or creative works and for collections of those source materials. (H 2080).

Reformation -- Sources

Canada -- History -- Sources


Transcripts of what was said during the course of interviews or conversations with one or more persons on one or more occasions, and works about those interviews (H 1678)

Artists -- Soviet Union -- Interviews

Authors-20th century-Interviews


Use for works discussing writings made by hand, typewriter, etc. by or about the person

Manuscripts, Medieval


Individual maps or collections of maps

Europe -- Maps

Maps -- 19th century

Notebooks, sketchbooks, etc

Collections or discussions of the person's notebooks or sketchbooks (H 1110)

Leonardo, da Vinci, 1452-1519 -- Notebooks, sketchbooks, etc


Use under 16th, 17th, and 18th century period subdivisions of European and American history and under individual wars, for short, separately published, usually polemical, essays or treatises regarding controversial issues of contemporary interest, especially political or religious matters (H 1095)

20th century -- Pamphlets

Personal Narratives

Names of events and wars for collective or individual eyewitness reports and/or autobiographical accounts of these events and wars (H 1928)

Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945) -- Hungary -- Personal narratives

Algeria -- History -- Revolution, 1954-1962 -- Personal narratives, Algerian

Pictorial Works

Works consisting primarily of pictures (H 1935)

Ruined buildings -- Pictorial works

(Adapted from UTM Primary Sources: Digital Collections)

Search by Author for Primary Sources

If you are looking for sources written by an author who is the subject of your research topic, use Advanced Search and select "author/creator" from the drop-down options, and search for the author's name.

image of library advanced search with drop-down option set to author/creator

Note: You can also refine the publication dates to make sure that the sources are published within your topic time period.