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Primary Sources

Examine these documents, objects and images that help us tell the story of the African-American communities in Lancaster County.

Artifact, in this sense of the word, refers to primary source material that is not printed. Three-dimensional artifacts are often studied as objects of material culture. Historical societies and museums collect artifacts because studying how objects are made and how they are used can often give us information about a society not found on any piece of paper.


A census is any type of enumeration of a population. Many are familiar with the federal census taken every decade, but states and localities have also produced census data at various times and for various reasons. These are often more detailed because there are fewer people for which the information must be collected.

Church Records

For much of early American history, churches were centers of community above and beyond their tasks as religious bodies. Baptism and cemetery records maintained by churches can provide basic personal information before the advent of mandatory civil birth and death certificates.

Court Records

Court records include information about criminal defendants, trial transcripts and evidence collected for civil lawsuits. Information about buildings and property can be found in deeds recorded at the local courthouse. Marriage certificates are another type of court record.


Diaries and memoirs give us first-hand information and can be particularly useful in learning more about everyday life. They are often very personal accounts, so consideration must always be given to the author and their background.


Inventories are lists of belongings owned by a particular individual, business or group. Such lists were compiled for tax or insurance purposes. Inventories give clues about their owner's socio-economic class.


Because written notes were the primary means of communication before the twentieth century, letters provide a great variety of information--from the highly personal to the "stricly business".

Local Government Records

By definition local government records provide more specific information about a more narrowly-defined location. Municipal records vary by community, but often contain information about permits, public works, public heath and elections.


Maps are important because understanding the geography of a location often makes it easier to understand the "big picture". They also provide a visual way of observing changes over time.


Newspapers are like time capsules, often presenting a wide range of material about a particular place at a particular time. Articles, editorials and advertisements speak of the political, economic, social and cultural environment in which they were written. Keep in mind that newspapers are assembled from a particular viewpoint and are not all-inclusive.


There is no substitue for a photograph to help us visualize the past. While a picture may be worth a thousand words, a photograph without accompanying descriptive details, such as date and location, is much less useful.

Tax Records

Tax records help us understand the economic climate of a particular time and place.


A will is a legal document by which a person designates how his or her property is to be divided among the heirs, or otherwise disposed of, after death.


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