Old photograph showing a group of women with flags and banners
Bronx Gold Star Mothers at Armistice Day ceremony

Finding primary sources for context

We’ve now seen some great examples of primary sources which can be used to add context to your family story.

Maps, newspapers, street directories and so on can provide information on the types of shops that surrounded your family’s home or how much it might have cost your grandfather to go to the cinema.

Now the question is how can you access these sources? Remember that not everything has been digitised and is thus available online and going to your local library, historical society or archive can provide you with a wealth of interesting information.

However, there are a range of online sources which cover many parts of the world that you may find helpful and the great thing is that quite a few of them are free.

A general hint for sourcing these types of primary sources is to check out the website of your national, state/provincial or county archive or library. Many of these bodies are digitising sources of interest to genealogists and often also provide advice and links to other websites of interest for the local area. Websites such as the USA.gov: Libraries and Archives and FamilySearch’s wiki (here with an example of a list of archives and libraries in New Zealand) give some idea of how to access these organisations.

Just using an internet search engine and typing in search terms such as ‘digital collections (and then the name of the place you are interested in)’ will usually provide a long list of links to websites of interest. For example, typing in’ digital collections New York’ gave a list which included the New York City Public Library’s digital collection and the New York Heritage Digital Collections webpage which provides free access to more than 170 distinct digital collections across New York State.

Digitising material is important to archives, historical societies and libraries as it both provides access to material to many people who would not be able to visit in person but also cuts down on the handling of the original material and thus preserves it for the future.

The resources in the ‘See Also’ section below can be consulted for other useful websites on the topic.

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This article is from the free online course:

Genealogy: Researching Your Family Tree

University of Strathclyde