10 About Primary Sources

What are Primary Sources?

Primary sources are original materials. They are first-hand accounts created at the time under study and may include:

  • diaries, letters, photographs, original documents, maps, original film or sound recordings, interviews, speeches, newspaper articles


Music Score 


Cover for a musical score by Howard Miller, composer. Title: I'll be a long, long way from home: A new Canadian patriotic song.1916.
Canadian Patriotic Song












Photograph of a group of women lying on the grass, Beausejour, 1911
Group of Women



Map of the Rocky Mountain glaciers from Peyto Glacier to Kicking Horse River
Rocky Mountain Glaciers from Peyto Glacier to Kicking Horse River








Image attributions: Images courtesy of Peel’s Prairie Provinces, a digital initiative of the University of Alberta Libraries.


How are Primary Sources cited?

Not all primary sources are cited the same way. Your notes / bibliography entries should be based on the following:

  • who wrote the original item?
  • what type of source is this?
  • when was the original item written/created?
  • how is this source accessed?

For example, a book or newspaper article written 80 years ago is cited the same way as a book or newspaper article published today.  However, items accessed in online repositories should be cited according to type and include a URL. (see section 14.221 of the Chicago Manual for more information).



A letter (primary source) accessed in an online archive:

Screenshot of a webpage. On top it reads VIU The Canadian Letters & Images Project. Underneath is a picture of soldiers of WWII and a search box to search the archives. The page heading says: Ball, Ralph Gooding Letter: 1917 August 1st, followed by a transcript of a Letter addressed to "Dear Earl" and signed by Ralph.

Footnote/endnote for the above letter:

1. Ball to Earl, August 1, 1917, World War One Collections, The Canadian Letters & Images Project, https://www.canadianletters.ca/document-22249 .

Bibliography entry:

Ball, R. G. Earl, Letter: 1917 August 1st. World War One Collections. The Canadian Letters & Images Project,  https://www.canadianletters.ca/document-22249. August 1, 1917.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Chicago Style Citations Copyright © 2021 by Ulrike Kestler and Sigrid Kargut is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book