Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

History: U.S.: Primary Sources

Online primary source collections (subscriptions)

Online Document Collections

Print and Microform Document Collections at Crumb

The Library of American Civilization (LAC)

The Library of American Civilization is a collection of material on ultramicrofiche relating to all aspects of American life and literature from their beginning up to 1914. The titles in this collection are not found in the online catalog. Use the author, subject and title catalogs (in book form) and the index called a "Biblioguide." Sets of these four books are found on the LAC cabinet in which the collection is stored in the reference area. Ask for help viewing LAC microfiche.

The Evans Collection

The Charles Evans' American Bibliography

(Ref. Z1215.E923), published in 14 volumes by one energetic researcher and the American Antiquarian Society, is the most important general, annotated list of early American publications. It cites books, pamphlets and periodicals printed in the United States between 1639 and 1800, arranged by year of publication. Each volume has three indexes: author, subject and printers and publishers. The documents are reproduced on microcard and contain the full text of all known existing books, pamphlets, and broadsides printed in the United States (or British American colonies prior to Independence) from 1639 through 1800. This includes every nonserial item listed in Evans and an additional 1100 titles from Bristol's supplement to Evans. Although the serials and newspapers have been numbered in the bibliography, they are not included in the microprint edition. These documents are in boxes on shelving along the wall behind the Information Desk. A special machine is used to read microcards.

The American Culture Series

The American Culture Series is a collection of some 5000 books and pamphlets on American culture from 1493 to 1876. They were selected and microfilmed under the auspices of the American Studies Association to enable colleges having limited library resources to have on microfilm materials that can no longer be purchased. (The Bibliography of American Culture, 1493-1875, Ref E156.A1 A585 1957, lists all the filmed items and approximately 1500 others relevant to the period but reprinted after 1900 and therefore possibly available in print.)

This collection does not appear in the online catalog. Use the printed volume, noted above, to see what it includes. Due to the time of publication, much of the series can be considered "primary" sources. Location numbers for the items in the collection all begin with XE 4.5. The rolls of film are stored in drawers behind the reference desk in the reference area.

Microform sets of Monographic and Pamphlet Materials

  • The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, travels and explorations of the Jesuit missionaries in New France, 1610-1791: the original French, Latin and Italian texts, with English translations and notes. Ed. Rueben Gold Thwaites. Microcard. Ya/F2
  • Early Western Travels, 1748-1846 , a series of annotated reprints of some of the best and rarest contemporary volumes of travel... Ed. Rueben Gold Thwaites. Microcard. Ya/F1
  • Lost Cause Press: Anti-Slavery Bibliography. In microfiche drawers at WE1. These documents from the antislavery movement are listed individually in BearCat. Search there by subject, author, or title.
  • Another set of primary sources, most relating to slavery in the U.S. is found in microfiche drawers at Wa/E1. These are also listed individually in BearCat - by subject, author, and title.
  • Jeffersonian Americana (Books Relating to America) (selected from Sabin. Bibliotheca Americana. Ref Z 1201.S2) - some 700 documents on microfiche at WF1 and NOT listed in BearCat. They are publications in many languages about America, from its discovery to mid-1800s. The fiche are arranged alphabetically by author, or lacking an author, by title.
  • New York County Histories. 5 reels of microfilm containing 14 county histories for Oneida Co. and Rensselaer Co. (XF 14)
  • Civil War Letters, 1861-1865. "Selected from those written by men serving in Union companies from Chautauqua County, N.Y. 14 sheets of microfiche, approx. 1400 pages. (Wa/E2)

The Congressional Serial Set

It is customary for a government to print is publications in a collected edition for official use. The volumes are usually uniform and are referred to as a set. The collected edition of United States publications is known as the Congressional Edition, or Congressional Set, or Serial Set. In general, the Serial Set for the United States includes material which has resulted from the work of the legislative branch but in some years materials from executive bodies have been included.

The material from each Congress is serially numbered and published in categories called Senate reports, House reports, Senate documents, House documents, Executive documents, journals of the Senate, journals of the House, etc.

Crumb Library holdings of the Serial Set begin with Serial No. 710 from the 33rd Congress (1853), with scattered volumes through the year 1887. From 1948-1978 the set is more complete, though there are gaps here as well. The library's holdings are shelved in the Lower Level. Although the library's holdings are incomplete, this is a valuable primary source. The Serial Set includes the following kinds of documents: reports to Congress from congressional committees, executive communications to Congress, annual reports of various patriotic organizations, reports of executive agencies (through 1912 only), and other publications considered by Congress to be of public interest. Excluded are documents such as hearings, committee prints, bills and resolutions, and executive agency publications since 1913. The contents of the Serial Set are not cataloged and therefore no records are in the online catalog. St. Lawrence University Library has the serial set complete except for a few small gaps. Holdings up to 1869 are on micro-card. From 1870 to present the volumes are bound. All are available on interlibrary loan.

A subject index to the Serial Set is being published. It is now complete for the period 1789-1969. Called the U.S. Serial Set Index (Ref Z 1223.Z9C65 1975). Reference is provided to the Serial Set volume where the indexed document appears. Also note: United States Government Documents on Women, 1800-1990. (Ref HQ 1410.A1H85 1993), and Guide to American Indian documents in the congressional serial set: 1817-1899. (Ref KF 8201.A1J63)

Slave Narratives

A folk history of slavery in the United States from interviews with former slaves was assembled as a Federal Writers' Project between 1936 and 1938. It is now available on five reels of microfilm. The title is Slave Narratives; its location (behind the Information Desk) is indicated by "Microfilm XE11." Also see the printed volumes entitled, American Negro Slavery: a documentary history (E 441.M86 1976), and The American slave: a composite autobiography : supplement, series 1 (E 444 .A45 suppl.)

American Periodical Series

This collection of early periodicals is on microfilm in the AP 2 section of the periodicals microfilm cabinets. The collection is described in the volume American Periodical series (Ref PN 4877.A1H65). The periodicals available in Crumb are those in the first series, mainly from before the year 1800. To see a list of the titles in this collection, connect to BearCat - Advanced keyword Search; choose in "Fields to Search"- Series Keyword; and enter american periodical series

Periodicals from the mid-1800s to early 1900s

Some are available in paper, others are on microfilm: a selected list. A complete list of historically interesting periodicals available at SUNY Potsdam is the Early Periodicals database. Search by periodical subject or title, or by decade of interest.

  • American Quarterly Review (LAC 30257-30272) 1827-1837; and (AP2.A4) 1827-1829. (Bound) Philadelphia. A literary review noted for its excessive national pride and often criticized for dullness.
  • American Review (AP2.A465)1845-1852. (Bound) Intended to be the voice of the Whig party-corresponding to the U.S. Democratic Review. It contained quite a bit of literary material (including poems by E.A. Poe) in addition to the political content.
  • Antislavery Examiner (E 449.A5092) 1836-1845. (Bound) Published in New York by the Amer. Antislavery Society.
  • Anti-Slavery Reporter and Aborigines' Friend (HT 851.A7 Microfilm) 1846-1909. London. Anti-slavery and Aborigines Protection Society. A comprehensive discussion of slavery along with extracts from contemporary newspapers and periodicals. World-wide coverage. Treats the historical events and their social and economic implications. A very significant set of documents.
  • Boston Quarterly Review (LAC 30528-30531) 1838-1842. Represents the thinking of Orestes Augustus Brownson, a strong personality who wished an organ for his opinions.
  • Christian Examiner (LAC 31319-31366) 1824-1869. An important religious review (Unitarian) that also treated social, literary, philosophical and educational problems. A distinguished list of contributors.
  • De Bow's Review (LAC 31367-31393) 1846-1861. A journal of trade, commerce, agriculture and industry; focusing on the South and West. Political issues were taken up after 1849.
  • Dial (AP2.D48) 1840-44 and 1880-1929. (Bound) It was a conservative journal of literary criticism. After 1916, it became an advocate for modern developments in literature. John Dewey and Thorstein Veblen were important contributors in the period, 1916-1919. In the period 1920-1929, it represented the state-of-the-art in literature - running articles by T.S. Eliot, Thomas Mann, Kenneth Burke and others.
  • Godey's Magazine (LAC 31750-31779) 1830-1860. Philadelphia. A "Ladys" magazine which published many sentimental and moral tales. Illustration formed an important attraction. Provides a history of manners, taste, costume, and a background to the advancement of women in later years.
  • Harbinger (LAC 31785-31790) 1845-1849. A weekly publication of Brook Farm expounding the doctrines for Fourier, and an early source for the study of transcendentalism. Some treatment of politics. Good articles on music. A very high-minded publication.
  • Harper's Magazine (AP2.H3) 1850-date (Bound). Described as an index to the literary culture and general character of the nation. Before 1925, it was a general literary magazine. After that date, it became a journal of diversified opinion - distinctly liberal. In the 1890's, it was perhaps the foremost literary magazine in America.
  • HarpWeek, - 1857-1865 (via the library web site). Full-page images of Harper's Weekly for this time period. The text is also fully searchable online. (SUNY Potsdam only)
  • Knickerbocker (LAC 31305-31318) 1833-1843. A monthly magazine with a N.Y. focus. Popular light reading which had correspondents reporting from throughout the country. Important for its humor. A magazine of great variety with important literary contributions.
  • Merchants Magazine and Commercial Review (LAC 30640-30688) & (HF1.M5 Microfilm) 1839-1870. It was an encyclopedia of commercial subjects covering most thoroughly statistics, mercantile law, currency, banking, insurance, navigation, treaties and biography of successful merchants.
  • The Nation (AP2.N2 bound) 1868-date. Current affairs, especially in the early years about Reconstruction. Following that, it was especially concerned with civil service reform, tariff reform, and proportional representation. Also a source for literary reviews. Many distinguished contributors.
  • National Era (E 185.5.V33 bound - in an oversize case). 1847-1860. A reprint in the series "Negro Periodicals in the U.S., 1840-1960."
  • Niles Weekly Register (LAC 31232-31273) 1811-1849. Contains 'political, historical, geographical, scientifical, statistical, economical, and biographical documents, essays and facts: together with notices of the arts and manufactures, and a record of the events of the time' . A chief resource for the historiographer of the early 19th century. Documents and speeches are printed.
  • North American Review (AP2.N7) 1821- date. (Bound). (LAC 30273-30400) 1815-1901. Edited at various times by James Russell Lowell, Charles Eliot Norton and Henry Adams. A stalwart organ of political and literary comment. It attempted to remain non-partisan and impartial.
  • Southern Literary Messenger (LAC 31088-31118) 1834-1863. From Richmond. Literary and travel articles. Poe edited it for a time. Of importance to the history of Southern literature, society and politics.
  • Southern Quarterly Review (AP2.S85) 1842-1857. (Bound) Reflected the thought and feeling of the South in this period. Slavery and literary criticism are important, as are political and historical articles. Quite a bit of attention to the far west.
  • United States Democratic Review (LAC 30219-30233) 1837-1846. Contains some literary material, but its political articles are most important. Interesting, too, for its portraits of democratic statesmen.
  • Vanity Fair, (AP2.V32 bound) 1913-1936. (Index shelved with bound volumes)
  • Western Messenger (LAC 30572-30576) 1835-1841. From Cincinnati. It began as a unitarian organ and is known, chiefly as a literary periodical. Deals with slavery, promotes the West (meaning, beyond the Appalachians), and American literature. The most important magazine of the west at that time.

Some of the above listed magazines are indexed in Poole's Index to Periodical Literature (Ref AI 3.P7). Vol. 1 covers the years 1802-1881. Use this index to search for a subject.

Also see the Research Society for American Periodicals - includes scanned 19th, 20th, and 21st century periodicals and resources for teaching about them.

U.S. Censuses (The Decennial Census of Population)

Some volumes, often the entire census report, are available for all of the decennial censuses from 1790 to the present; with the exception of censuses of 1840 and 1890. These volumes are in the stacks at HA 201 [yr]. See also the Statistical Atlas from the 12th census (1900) at Ref HA 201 1990 B1.

Hand-recorded census rolls for St. Lawrence Co. (and some alphabetically adjacent counties) are found in the microfilm drawers at XHA1.

Census Index - this searchable database includes records for Decennial Census publications (paper and CD only) produced between 1790 and 1997. Each record includes basic bibliographic information about the title. Most records also include an abstract. This is not a way to search for names, but for census data.

Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-born Population of the United States - a working paper presenting selected decennial census data on the foreign-born population of the United States from 1850 to 2000.

Other Collections : Selected collections of primary sources:

  • General
    • Hakluyt Society - "works issued by the Hakluyt Society" - 1st and 2nd series. Approx 175 vols. of reprints of early exploration and discovery. (G 161.H2)
  • New York State
    • New York State: The Documentary History of the State of New York. (Special Collections F122.D64) 4 Volumes, 1850-51. (Colonial period only)
    • Documents relative to the colonial history of the State of New York (Special Collections F122.D66) 15 Volumes, (Library lacks volumes 7-8,14) 1853-87
    • Documentary history of the State of New York. (F 122.D63) vol. 1,3.
    • Collections of the New York Historical society (F116.N62 and F116.N63). (These collections are listed in the online catalog by individual authors and subjects).
    • Minutes of the Executive Council of New York, 1668-1673. (F 122.N5345)
    • Messages of the Governors. (NYS) 1683-1906. (J 87.N716)
    • Council of Appointment. New York State. Military Minutes. (F 118.N53) 1983-1821. 4 vols.
    • The Colonial Laws of New York. (KFN 5030 1775 A23)
    • The public papers from many of the governors of NY - see the catalog under the name of the governor.
  • Other states
    • Connecticut Historical Society. Collections. (F 91.C7) Scattered volumes, 12 in total.
    • Public papers of Connecticut. (F 97.C7). Covering the years 1636-1757. 10 vols.
    • Colonial records of Connecticut. (F 97.C7) Continues the title above for the years 1757-1776. 5 vols.
    • New Haven Colonial Records. (F 98.N81) 1653-1665. 1 vol.
    • Journal of the House of Representatives of Massachusetts 1721-1760. (J 87.M4)
    • Records of Massachusetts, 1628-1686. (F 67.M32 1853a)
    • Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts. (F 61.C71) Scattered volumes, 11 in total.
    • Winthrop papers. (F 7.W79). Vols. 1,3,4.
    • Plymouth Colony records. (F 68.N55 1968). Various categories of documents over diverse time periods during 1633-1692.
    • Colonial records of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations of New England. (F 76.R292). 1636-1792. 10 vols.
    • The Correspondence of the Colonial Governors of Rhode Island. (F 82.R44). 1723-1775. 2 vols.
    • Executive Journals of the Council of Colonial Virginia. 1680-1775. (J 87.V588)
    • Legislative journals of the Council of colonial Virginia. (J 87.V59) 3 vol.
    • The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution. KF 4502.D63. Many volumes
  • United States
    • American Archives. "consisting of a collection of authentick records, state papers, debates, and letters and other notices of publick affairs...". The library has the 4th series, v.2,4,6 and the 5th series, v.1-3; covering the years 1775-1776. Pub. in 1839-1853. (E 203.A51)
    • Messages and Papers of the Presidents. 1789-1920. (J 81.B96g)
    • Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1784. (J10.A5)
    • American State Papers: Documents of the Congress of the United States, in relation to public lands. (HD 171.A222 1834) 8 vols.
    • Annals of Congress, 1789-1824 (J11.A5) continued by Congressional Debates, 1824-1837 (J11.D5), continued by Congressional Globe, 1833-1873 (J11.G5), continued by Congressional Record, 1973-date (J11.R5)
    • Diplomatic Correspondence of the American Revolution. Wharton. (E 249.U583) 6 vols.
    • Documentary History of the Constitution of the United States of America. 5 vols. 1894. Subtitle: "Derived from the records, manuscripts, and rolls deposited in the Bureau of Rolls and Library of the Department of State." (JK 111.A5 1965)
    • Treaties and other international agreements of the United States of America, 1776-1949. (JX236 1968 .A5)
    • Eyewitness accounts of the American Revolution. A series. Search BearCat for this series title to see a list of the titles in Crumb.
    • Territorial Papers of the United States. V.2-28 (E 173.C3)
    • Documents Illustrative of the History of the Slave Trade to America. (E 441.D69) 4 vols.
    • The War of the Rebellion, official records of the Union and Confederate Armies. (E 464.U61)
    • Official Record of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. (E 591.U58) 30 vols.
    • Foreign Relations of the United States - 1861-1974; 1932-1960, also published by the U.S. Dept of State, (JX233.A3).
    • United States in World Affairs. Council on Foreign Relations. (E 744.U66) 1931 - 1970. A description of current events with some documents.
    • United States Reports (Supreme Court). 1790- date. (KF 101)
    • Smithsonian Institution. Bureau of American Ethnology. Annual Reports. 48 vols. 1879-1930. (E51.U55) This collection is an encyclopedic work containing much useful information. Volume 48 is the index to the set.
    • Smithsonian Institution. Bureau of American Ethnology. Bulletin 178. (Ref. E51.U6) and (Ref. E51.U65 1971). Together, these index: - Bulletin of the bureau of American Ethnology numbers 1 to 200. Data includes a detailed subject index, a list of Bulletins, an index to authors and titles, to illustrations, and to contributions of North American Ethnology, Introductions and Miscellaneous Publications. Individual titles available in Crumb are listed in the online catalog.
    • The Columbia documentary history of race and ethnicity in America. (E 184.A1C57 2004)

Primary Sources via library catalogs

Some of the terms used in library catalogs for collections of primary source documents:

SOURCES - this is the most general term used for a collection of primary documents of various kinds, or a guide to locating primary sources. Example catalog search: united states history sources

PERSONAL NARRATIVES - a general subject heading for first-hand accounts

CORRESPONDENCE - collections of letters



ARCHIVES - This usually leads to guides or directories of archival collecrtions. Example catalog search: new york state archives




Books and articles may also reproduce primary sources, either as appendixes or within the text. And they may be excellent sources for learning about what primary sources are known to exist.

Declassified Government archives


Crumb Library: 315-267-2485
Crane Library: 315-267-2451

Text Us! (Mon-Fri, 10 - 4): 315-277-3730

Social Media

College Libraries


SUNY Potsdam College Libraries
44 Pierrepont Ave
Potsdam, NY 13676