F&M College Library

CNX 247: Cross-Examining the Witness


  1. Make sure the database you're searching covers the time period in which your event occurred.  For Example:  The Great Fire of London occurred in September 1666, so search Burney Collection Newspapers, not Eighteenth Century Collections Online.   
  2. Use the "language of the day."  For Example:  The Great Fire of London was not called The Great Fire of London until it was written about in retrospect, so for first-hand accounts search London and fire with date limiters.
  3. Start by searching in authoritative reference works like encyclopedias and the Gale Virtual Reference Library.
  4. Run an Advanced Search in DISCOVER with "personal narratives" in the subject field and your event in the keyword field. You can also try using "oral histories," autobiographies, memoirs, or testimonies. For ExampleSubject: "personal narratives" AND Keyword: "Vietnam War"


Identify the key words that describe your topic and use them to search the library catalog and databases.  Make a list of synonyms and search with those, too. Enclose words in "quotation marks" when you want multiple words to express one idea or concept. 


"bloody sunday" and alabama

selma and montgomery

Boolean operators

Use the words AND, OR, and NOT--called boolean operators--between your keywords to broaden or narrow your search. 


malcolm x and (letters or correspondence)



If you shorten, or truncate, a word and then use an asterisk to "stand-in" for its different endings, your search results will include all forms of the word.


A key word search for testimon* will look for testimony, testimonies, testimonial, testimonials--

testimon* and "civil rights"

Primary source words

Along with topics as keywords, use types of primary sources as keywords.


  • interview
  • testimony
  • personal narrative
  • diary
  • letter
  • correspondence
  • memoir
  • autobiography
  • oral history