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History Day Research @ the MNHS Library: Step 1: Get Started

A step-by-step guide for student researchers

Pick a Topic

  • Remember this year's theme--"Breaking Barriers in History"--when selecting your topic. More information on the theme is available on the National History Day MN website.  
  • You can also visit the Research Guides page on the Minnesota Historical Society Library website for Minnesota-specific topic ideas.

Find Secondary Sources

Secondary sources will help you understand the background and context of your topic. They can also have footnotes and bibliographies that can lead you to primary sources.  

How to find secondary sources:

  • Go to your local public library and ask the friendly librarian to help you find books and articles in their library.
  • Search in WorldCatan online catalog of books in libraries around the world.
  • If you find something interesting in WorldCat that your local library does not own, ask your librarian if they can borrow it for you through Interlibrary Loan
  • Look at articles in MNopedia. This online encyclopedia includes essays on various Minnesota topics, and the essays have timelines, bibliographies, related resources, and images.

  • Look in Minnesota History for articles published about your topic. Use the index to find articles about a particular subject or use the search box to find any term that appears in online versions of articles.

  • Search in databases of journal and magazine articles.  Minnesota students can use the Electronic Library of Minnesota ( for free.   

Gather Background Information

Be sure to find out the basic background about your topic before you start looking for primary sources.  Helpful things to know are:

  • Who?:  Names of people or organizations
  • What?: Events
  • When?: Dates
  • Where?: Important Locations 

Useful Terms

Primary Source - Materials from the time of the person or event being researched.  (Letters, diaries artifacts, photographs, and other types of first-hand accounts and records, as well as reminiscences and oral histories. Stories from newspapers of the time may also be primary sources.)

Secondary Source - Materials that were created at a later time.  They analyze and interpret primary sources; footnotes or bibliographies can lead to primary sources.

Still confused about Primary vs. Secondary Sources?  Check out our short video tutorial!

Getting Started Links

Gale Family Library • Minnesota Historical Society • 345 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55102-1906 • 651-259-3300
Currently open by appointment only.