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A Research Guide: From the Secondary Source to the Primary Source

Tools for Locating Primary Sources

Locating manuscript or archival collections can be daunting. Primary sources can be found in public libraries, colleges and universities, museums, and historical societies as well as in schools, hospitals, and businesses. Many public libraries and museums have local history collections, which are made up of primary and secondary sources about the people and activities of the town. If you are doing research about a person who lived in a particular town in Massachusetts, it is vital to check the public library and local historical society museum for information, before contacting libraries at the state level. For published histories of Massachusetts towns, you may want to consult Massachusetts: A Bibliography of its History published by the Committee for a New England Bibliography.

By following the research process described within this guide, you will be able to locate citations to manuscripts in secondary sources and journal articles [see Using Secondary Sources as a Reference Tool]. The sources described below will supply information about the institutions that hold primary source materials. The directories provide a gateway to information about institutions that hold manuscript materials. Archives and manuscript repositories also create their own subject guides, which describe manuscript collections of a particular topic within an institution's collection. Manuscript Sources for Research on the American Revolution is an example of a published subject guide, but often these guides are only available at the library who created them [see Diaries at the Massachusetts Historical Society]. In addition to printed subject guides, you should also consult the electronic databases and web sites to search for manuscript collections. Electronic databases index and make available the widest spectrum of archival material that exists in libraries, museums and historical societies throughout the world [see Electronic Databases].

Directories:

Directory of Archives and Manuscript Repositories in the US and Canada

Similar Sources to Consult:
American Library Directory
Official Museum Directory

All of the directories listed above provide listings for libraries and museums. The entries include contact information: mailing address, phone, fax and email addresses, staff names as well as descriptions of what they do and what they collect. If you are unfamiliar with what historical organizations are in your local area, these guides will be useful.

Subject Guides:

Women's History Sources: A Guide to Archives and Manuscripts

Similar Sources to Consult:
Manuscript Sources in the Library of Congress on the American Revolution

Published subject guides are helpful for locating manuscript collections on a topic within one institution or many. Women's History Sources is a compilation of listings for archives and manuscript collections related to women scattered in various libraries throughout the United States. Although the descriptions for each entry listed in Women's History Sources can be found listed separately in electronic databases, the information gathered together in this source, as a whole, can't be duplicated elsewhere.

The index is an alphabetical arrangement by subject and by name. The entries are arranged by state and then by town within each state. Therefore, if you wish to find manuscripts related to a particular region or town and specifically to women's sources, this guide will be extremely useful to you. Because this source lacks a chronological index, you can't systematically search for materials by date without scanning through the entries themselves.

Each entry contains information about a collection of records, manuscripts or personal papers of a family, person or organization. In addition, it provides a brief description of the collection, lists the library that holds the material, and tells how much material is in the collection.

 
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