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Primary Sources: How to Search

Where Did it Come From?

In a website of primary sources it is important to determine where the individual or organization acquired the documents. The best sites clearly state the provenance of the original material. Consider the format of the document and type of site: 

Scanned image of a document: The image of scanned documents usually illustrates what the original documents look like. The origin of the documents at a website may be determined by the creator of the website. For example, the Library of Congress website generally supplies documents from its own manuscript collections, but for other organizations providing in-house documents is not always possible. Sometimes, websites will present texts from other document collections, or may provide links to documents at other websites. Also keep in mind that Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is not 100% accurate. Obsolete print characters, faint script, or damaged paper can cause difficulty for programs used to interpret them.

Transcribed document: Transcribed documents do not illustrate the original image of the document but only provide the content in plain text format. It is important to discover the original source of transcribed documents to determine if the transcription is complete and accurate. The source, which may be the original documents or published editions, should be cited.

Links to external documents: Metasites that link to external documents and websites that use frames require you to track down the original website for the documents for evaluation purposes. A reliable website may link to a document in an external, less reliable site and vice-versa.

The  above derived from "Evaluating Primary Sources", American Library Association, January 12, 2015 (Accessed October 31, 2017)

Document ID: 9e2d17be-df12-f754-c9aa-a827a6dc893f

Also Consider

Website Functionality and Design

Is the website clearly organized, accessible and functional? This can be an indicator of a legitimate source for the documents.