Immigration History

Primary Source Considerations

When determining your research topic, consider what primary sources are available to you. Is the material you need published in book form? Or is it housed in an archives? If it is housed in an archives, the material may only be available to review in the archives. Only a small percentage of primary source materials have been digitized and are available online.

Can you read languages other than English? Primary source materials may be in a foreign language, and may be not be translated into English.

If you are researching the immigration history of a country other than the United States, please speak with a librarian to confirm that you can find and access primary sources for your paper. See "Research Assistance" for contact information.

About Primary Sources

Primary sources are materials that were created at the time period you are studying. In the case of memoirs, they are the materials recorded later by a participant or witness of an event.

Examples of primary sources are:

  • books - nonfiction & fiction
  • magazine and journal articles
  • photographs and images
  • speeches
  • letters
  • diaries
  • memoirs and autobiographies
  • government documents
  • advertisements
  • films and audiorecordings
  • materials generated by companies & organizations
  • objects and ephemera (e.g., postcards)
  • court decisions

As you do background research on your topic, consider what primary sources might exist. Bibliographies you find in books and articles often mention their primary source material.

Locating Published Primary Sources

Published collections of primary sources often contain a range of materials, such as diary entries, government documents, newspaper articles, speeches, and photographs.

To find collections of primary sources on a topic in the EMU Library's Esearch system:

1. Make sure you are at the Esearch "Advanced" search screen.

2. In the top box, type in a words or phrases that describe your topic.

3. In another row of search boxes, change the type of search in the dropdown box from "All Fields" to "Subject Terms."

 4. In the search box for the "Subject Terms," add one of the following search terms:

"sources"    "diaries"  "personal narratives"  "correspondence"

5.  OPTIONAL: To limit to books only, scroll down the screen to the "Show content type" options and change "Any" to "Books/eBooks." You can also limit to items in the library's catalog by scrolling to the "Show only" options and clicking box next to "Items in the library catalog (includes mostly print and physical material)."

6. Click on the "Search" button located in the bottom left-hand corner of the page.

Online Collections for Immigration History in the U.S.

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