Tips for Researchers

Archival Language

Primary vs. Secondary Sources

A primary source is firsthand testimony or direct evidence concerning a topic under investigation. A secondary source is created when an individual writes about the primary source findings and puts together a story about the past.


The provenance is the origin of a particular collection, not to be intermingled with those materials from other collections even if they concern the same individual or organization.

Finding Aids

A finding aid is an unpublished guide to a collection that provides historical information on the organization and activities of an agency or biographical information on the individuals who created the collection. The aid also includes an overview of the collection materials, identifies related in-house collections and provides an inventory of the contents of each box within the collection.

Collection Labeling

There are five different designations of manuscript materials:

Manuscript Collection: i.e., a group of materials, correspondence, papers, diaries, notebooks from one source (personal papers, organizational documents).
Manuscript item or items: i.e., one or two letters, papers, diaries.
University Archives: i.e., records, correspondence pertaining to the University of New Hampshire Community.
University Archives Visual Collection: i.e., photographs, videotape, film, and other visual formats.
Audio/visual Collection: i.e., a collection of recordings, photographs, slides, posters.

History Matters: Making Sense of the Evidence provides strategies for using various primary resources and information on how scholars analyze different kinds of primary resources.

How to Use Primary Resources utilizes Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s work with Martha Ballard’s diary to demonstrate how scholars delve into the past.

History Toolkit offers research tips and forms that shed light on what you need to know to take advantage of different documents and sources.

How to Read 18th Century Handwriting provides tools necessary to understand early documents.