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Interpreting Primary and Secondary Sources

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Correspondence

Is this correspondence ... Primary?     or     Secondary?

Correspondence is one of the most common types of primary sources. It is usually found within an archives or a manuscript collection. Researchers often use correspondence to understand personal accounts of events, discover with whom an individual corresponded, study the language and manner in which a letter was written, understand the functioning of an organization, and for many other cultural, historical, and personal purposes. In evaluating the credibility of correspondence, the researcher should determine the authenticity of the document, and whether the author was a reliable eyewitness or participant.

Back page of a letter written by Joseph Raynes, in Baltimore, to his family in England, 6 July 1831

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Back page of a letter written by Joseph Raynes, in Baltimore, to his family in England, 6 July 1831 .

Joseph Raynes papers, Special Collections, University of Maryland Libraries

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