For Educators - Part 3. Locating Historical Records Online that Engage, Inform, and Lead to Meaningful Learning

Online Resources at the Library of Congress

The resources of the Library of Congress are vast and a search of the millions of items on their site can be daunting. For purposes of accessing materials that can be downloaded, printed or viewed easily, teachers should consider limiting their searches to what is available in digital format. The Library of Congress has over 9 million items that are available on its site in digital format, many from its own collections and others that are from collaborations with other institutions such as Cornell University or the Ohio Historical Society.

Where to search

The digitized materials at the Library of Congress are like hundreds of separate databases of historical records, including the American Memory section within Collection Highlights which is organized into more than 100 thematic collections based on their original format, their subject matter, or who first created, assembled, or donated them to the Library. Teachers and students can search individual collections or across all collections, depending on the nature of the query.

Collection Highlightsalso includes materials accessible by format type (Maps, Sound Recordings, Film, Historic Newspapers, Prints & Photographs and more).

Searches can also begin by Topic, the first of which is listed as "American History” (further searchable by time period and subject).

Third, there is a section titled Especially For… that includes simple pages for younger people as well as a very comprehensive site "For Teachers” that includes lesson plans, classroom materials, primary source sets and more, all aligned to state and national standards.

A useful tool to help you become familiar with various search strategies at the Library of Congress is their online module: Finding Primary Sources:

Search terms

When searching collections at the Library of Congress, use both contemporary and historical search terms. For example, if looking for historical evidence of gas stations, use the search term "gas station” or the older term, "filling station” to locate materials.

Another example when looking for historical evidence of a place such as Canada, include search terms like "New France” or "Upper Canada” since these were terms employed before the formal unification of Canada in 1867.

Terms used to describe African Americans in the past include "(N)negroe,” and "colored.”

Bookmarking items

If you find records you think you may want to use again, you should consider bookmarking the item using the permanent Uniform Resource Locator (URL). The URL that appears in your browser address bar will very likely be subject to change in the future and should not be used to bookmark. The Library of Congress has specific instructions for location of permanent URLs, many of which will be found in the item’s bibliographic record. Go to:

You should also use the "Help links in the various collection sections for additional search tips, including narrowing or broadening your search, downloading and linking, searching by date or topic, how to play audio or video files, full text searches, and so on.

A final option is to use the "Chat” link at American Memory in order to connect with a "live” person at the Library of Congress about any questions you may have. Go to: additional options at Ask a Librarian.

Resources at New York Heritage

New York Heritage is a constantly growing and changing research portal for students, educators, historians, genealogists, and anyone else interested in the Empire State’s history. This site brings together open access digital collections from libraries, museums and archives from all over the state. It provides a gateway to nearly 200 distinct digital collections that reflect New York State’s long history.

These collections represent a broad range of historical, scholarly, and cultural materials held in libraries, museums, and archives throughout the state. Collection items include photographs, letters, diaries, directories, maps, newspapers, books, and more. Searching across contributing institutions, collection titles, formats, subjects, keywords and, geographic location are current features that allow access to the records on the site.

To search across collections, you can enter search terms in the top right search box on the main page. Additionally, the site allows searching by date, subject, and by contributing institutions.


Other Resources to Consider

There are so many sites on the Internet that offer useful and unique resources for classroom investigation. Whether you utilize academic or popular search engines or sites, you need to be sure the sources are authentic, accurate and, current. There are online resources to help you learn how to evaluate and identify quality web sites, including:

Evaluating Sources (SUNY Oswego)

Evaluate Web Pages, Widener University

Evaluating Web Sites, University of Maryland

Listed below are several sites that have been identified as reliable:

Repositories of Primary Sources

Resources from Outside the Library of Congress

Historical Documents Online from the Cardinal Cushing Library at Emmanuel College

National History Day and Archives Toolkit

Library and Archival Exhibitions on the Web