General tips for finding primary sources on historical topics:
Start with some solid secondary research (books, journal articles) on your topic to form a basis for diving into primary research. See what sources they cite. Going into a historical archive blind is usually a frustrating experience.
Look for local historical societies, public libraries, or museums. Google is often the best place to start for these searches.
Consider the type of material that would be most useful for your topic and what perspectives you would be interested in. It's one thing to have a contemporary newspaper's account of an event, but what else could you learn by looking at a diary describing the same event?
Ask for help! Archival collections can seem like big, confusing, messy places (they often are!). Set up a research appointment with an archivist or librarian before you arrive. They might even be able to locate some materials for you. Don't be shy!
The Archive of Americana (left) or American Memory (below) are great places to look for primary sources on topics related to almost any aspect of U.S. history.
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is nation's record keeper. NARA preserves and makes available the most important documents and materials produced by the U.S. Federal Government.
The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with millions of books, recordings, photographs, newspapers, maps and manuscripts in its collections. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office.
After 40 years on Detroit Public Television, American Black Journal gains a wider audience thanks to Michigan State University. These shows view the history of the United States, and Detroit in particular, through the eyes of African Americans. The website is search- and browseable and contains educational resources.
This digital archive from Rice University gathers important documents and other resources from throughout the history of the U.S. and other American nations (including Canada, the Caribbean, and Latin America).
Search and browse more than 150 papers from 14 and the District of Columbia. Most cover only a few years in the late 19th or early 20th centuries. You can also search a directory for most known U.S. newspapers published from 1690-present.
This collection of about twenty documents gives insight into the experience of Northern and Southern soldiers, civilians, slaves, free blacks, whites slave holders, etc. during the Civil War and immediately after.
A huge collection of documents and data on the U.S. presidency. Collects the papers of many U.S. presidents (executive orders, proclamations, etc.), breakdowns of the State of the Union speeches, and much more.
Audio tapes recorded in the White House by American Presidents from 1940 to 1973, beginning with Franklin Roosevelt and ending with Richard Nixon. Includes links to other resources at the Miller Center of Public Affairs.