Finding Primary Sources

Sources can be found numerous classes of historical record.  This page lists a variety of such classes and offers links to resources for exploring them.

Searching in HOLLIS

To find books, periodicals, manuscripts, videos, etc., on a topic in HOLLIS, put in likely keywords and choose Library Catalog.  Look at pertinent records and find the terms under Subject. For example, searching immigration enforcement yields

From deportation to prison : the politics of immigration enforcement in post-civil rights America, by Patrisia Macías-Rojas. New York : New York University Press, 2016, 232 pages
Emigration and immigration -- Government policy.
Immigration enforcement -- United States.
Criminal justice, Administration of -- United States.
Social control -- United States.
Mexican-American Border Region.

Under Refine my results: Subject on the right of the results list there are more main terms (Illegal aliens; Immigration and emigration law) to try, but not the terms after the dashes ( -- Government policy) which are called subdivisions.  NOTE: If you hit one of the terms in this Subject list, HOLLIS will find records with the term, say  "Illegal aliens", only on records in the set originally formed by searching immigration enforcement.

Redo your search using the terms that HOLLIS uses.    Also, go to Starts with.../Browse (top black band) and put in Illegal aliens, adjusting to Browse by Subject.  This is very useful in breaking down a large subject and in giving you more subdivisions, which can be applied to other Subject terms, to search.  Thus:

  • Illegal aliens -- Government policy

Whenever you have a reference to a useful book, look it up in HOLLIS and see what the Subject terms are.

Any pertinent book published during your era may be a primary source, but certain kinds of primary sources, including originally unpublished sources such as letters and diaries published later, have particular terms attached to their Subject terms in a HOLLIS record.  Change Any field to Subject for cleanest results.   

  • --Archives
  • --Correspondence
  • --Description and travel
  • --Diaries
  • --Manuscripts
  • --Notebooks, sketchbooks, etc.
  • --Personal narratives (refers to accounts of wars and diseases only)
  • --Sources (usually refers to collections of published primary sources)

Immigrants "united states"
Archives OR Correspondence OR Diaries OR Manuscripts OR Sources OR Narratives (as Subject)

When you find a pertinent book, go to Starts With.../Browse and put in the call number, adjusting the menu to Library of Congress (Wid-LC) or Other. This shows you other books on the same subject, even though they may be in storage or checked out.

See the Library Research Guide for History and the HOLLIS Help guide for more information on searching HOLLIS.

Archival Records

Immigration Restriction League (U.S.) records, 1893-1921. FindIt@Harvard

To find Harvard archival collections, see the Library Research Guide for History: Archives and Manuscripts.


Find bibliographies in HOLLIS by searching your keyword plus the word Bibliography (which must be limited to Subject). Example.

Diaries and Other Personal Writings

To find them in HOLLIS search:  ("Chinese Americans" OR "Chinese United States") AND (diaries OR archives OR correspondence OR narratives). The Subject term Biography will retrieve a mixture of biographies and autobiographies.

North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries and Oral Histories (1800-1950.) includes 342 authors and approximately 37,500 pages of information, illustrating what it meant to immigrate to America and Canada.

Autobiographies by Americans of color 1980-1994: an annotated bibliography, by Rebecca Stuhr-Rommereim. Troy, NY: Whitston, 1997.
LOCATION: Widener: WID-LC CT220.Z99 S78 1997x
--Lists 499 autobiographies of persons of African, Asian, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Native American heritage with brief summaries. Reprints of pre1980 works are included but usually not annotated. Index includes countries of origin, topics, occupations and names, but not titles.
--Continued by Autobiographies by Americans of color, 1995-2000: an annotated bibliography, by Deborah Stuhr Iwabuchi & Rebecca Stuhr. Albany, NY: Whitston Pub. Co., 2003.
LOCATION: Widener Harvard Depository CT220.Z99
--Lists 674 autobiographies including items missed in the earlier volume. Includes some persons of Middle Eastern heritage.

Digital Libraries

HathiTrust Digital Library includes a searchable database of digitized books and periodicals contributed by numerous libraries. Includes items contributed by these libraries to Google Books and to Internet Archive but with some unique material. Each full text item is linked to a standard library catalog record, thus providing good metadata. The catalog can be searched separately. Globally full text searchable, like Google Books but unlike Internet Archive. Full text is fully viewable.

Digital Libraries by State: These websites list hundreds of local, state, and regional resources.

Document Collections

To find more collections of primary sources, search Sources as a Subject keyword.Sources usually refers to published collections of primary sources of several different types. 

Chinese AND immigration AND Sources  [Use caps for AND]

Since Sources is a common word, 'Limit to: Subject' eliminates many irrelevant results.

Asian Americans and Seattle's Civil Rights History  offers oral histories, photographs, maps, documents.

Digital History of Asian-American History (University of Houston).

Simon Fraser University Digital Collections: Immigrant Experience

Government Documents

Government documents are publications intended to be released to the public.

The great majority of U.S. and foreign government documents and the publications of international organizations are housed in the Government Documents/Microforms Collection of Lamont. Reference expertise is also available there.  Many government documents are not represented in the HOLLIS Catalog.

United States Commission on Civil Rights : reports on Asian Pacific Americans, ed. by Gabriel J. Chin. Buffalo, N.Y. : W.S. Hein, 2005. 4 v.
Subject:Asian Americans -- Civil rights -- History -- 20th century -- Sources.;
Pacific Islander Americans -- Civil rights -- History -- 20th century -- Sources.
Table of contents
Reports online
--Collected Asian American reports, 1975-2001

Homeland Security Digital Library provides access to U.S. policy documents, presidential directives, and national strategy documents as well as specialized resources, such as dissertations, reports and position papers from universities, research institutions, think tanks and U.S. local and state agencies as well as international governments. HSDL features SeekOnce, a meta-search engine, which enables cross searching of more than 50 journal article databases and a wide range of web-based resources from NASA to the RAND Corporation. Coverage: 2002 to current. However, HSDL is also collecting historical material relevant to homeland security from before 2002. Examples of historical documents in the collection include major legislation, executive orders, and presidential directives.

Government Studies on Immigration (2002- ). A bibliography.


This is a very useful source, containing the reports of Congressional committees and hearings:
ProQuest Congressional provides indexing for Congressional publications dating from 1790 to the present. Post-1970, full-text access is often available. Publications included are Committee Hearings, House and Senate Documents, House and Senate Reports, Senate Executive Reports, Senate Executive Treaty Documents, Legislative Histories, Serial Set Maps, Serial Set. More information.

HeinOnline U.S. Congressional Documents provides full-text access to the published debates, proceedings and speeches of the U.S. Congress, including the Annals of Congress(1789-1824), Register of Debates (1824-1837), Congressional Globe (1833-1873) and the Congressional Record (1873 to present).


National security and the FBI surveillance of enemy aliens. 32 microfilm reels.
Online guide


In HOLLIS the following terms are found on literary works and works of literary scholarship.

American literature -- Korean American authors.
Authors, Korean
Korean American literature -- United States.
Korean Americans – Fiction (or Drama, or Poetry) refers to literary works
Korean Americans -- In literature refers to literary scholarship
Korean Americans -- Literary Collections

For literary scholarship:


Finding Articles in General and Popular Periodicals (North America and Western Europe)
Finding Periodical Articles and Book Reviews on Africa
Finding Periodical Articles and Book Reviews on South and Southeast Asia
Research Guide for East Asian Studies
Finding Periodical Articles and Book Reviews on Latin America
Slavic and Eurasian Studies: A Research Guide
Introduction to Slavic Information Resources (Univ. of Illinois)


National Online Directory of Ethnic Media of New America Media, and organization of ethnic news organizations.

Chronicling America, enhancing access to historic American newspapers (1836-1922) (Library of Congress) offers searchable full text. Also includes the valuable U.S. Newspaper Directory, 1690-Present, in which searches can be limited by language and ethnicity.

Ethnic American Newspapers from the Balch Collection (1799-1971) in America’s Historical NewspapersTitle list (In Quick Facts & Overview box on the right). The titles marked Forthcoming are in fact available now. Asian newspapers are largely Japanese.

Ethnic NewsWatch (1959- ) offers full-text of 90 newspapers and other periodicals (1990- ) and of 30 African American, Hispanic American, and Native American newspapers and other periodicals (1959-1989). Includes book/film/television reviews. Lists of periodicals by ethnicity.

Hispanic American newspapers, 1808-1980.

Nikkei Newspapers Digital Archive offers North American Times (1902-1942) and North American Post (1946-1950), published primarily in Japanese, with occasional, and then regularly appearing, pages published in English. Translation summaries (English) are provided for some front page stories.

For general newspaper coverage, see Guide to Newspapers and Newspaper Indexes.

Oral Histories


Subject contains: Illegal aliens
Subject contains: Interviews OR oral

North American Immigrant Letters, Diaries and Oral Histories (1800-1950.) includes 342 authors.

Archive of Immigrant Voices  (Center for Global Migration, University of Maryland)

Many Paths, Many Voices: Oral Histories from the University of Washington Special Collections (1960s- ) offers interviews from Scandinavian American, African American, Japanese American, and Jewish communities in Washington.

Policy Literature

PolicyFile (1990-) offers public policy reports and studies published by think tanks, university research programs, research organizations including the OECD, IMF, World Bank, the Rand Corporation, and a number of federal agencies.

Policy Archive is a digital library of public policy research containing over 30,000 documents.

Think Tank Search - from the Kennedy School of Government, a customized Google search of documents produced by think tanks.

Google advanced search. You can limit by domain: .org


Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-Born Population of the United States: 1850 to 2000

Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1978-2001
Online Version

Yearbook of Immigration Statistics (Department of Homeland Security), 1996-present.

Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States (Migration Policy Institute)

Migration Data Hub (Migration Policy Institute)

Analytical bibliography of international migration statistics, selected countries, 1925-1950. United Nations. Bureau of Social Affairs. New York, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 1955, 195 p.