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Indigenous History U.S. Since 1900: Database Search Tips

Database Search Tips

  1. Be prepared with synonyms in case your original search produces no results. If the database offers a link to a thesaurus or subject terms tab, use it to locate additional or related words for your search terms.
  2. Pay attention to search tips or help screens provided by each database. Take the time to learn how to use the tool - it will help you to avoid frustration!
  3. Remember that most databases allow for Boolean Searching (see the video in this guide). Use and to narrow, or to expand, not to exclude. Truncation is also useful for bringing back all relevant results. For example, type counsel* to bring back documents containing the words counsel, counseling, counselor...
  4. Review the database search screen for a Thesaurus or Subject Terms tab or link.
  5. Review articles, the references with this article, look for sections listing key words or subject terms, and relationships to your focus on the topic.

Primary Source Information and Search Tips

What are primary sources?

Primary sources are records in real time or a first-hand descriptions of events. For example, journalists on the scene, an eyewitness, spectator, or an observer can all provide immediate accounts of an event. Among the many items considered as primary are narratives, interviews, diaries, letters, memos, memoirs, speeches, photographs, maps, oral histories, government records/documents, and more. The following links provide information about primary sources and the difference between different kinds of sources (primary, secondary, and tertiary).

Search Tips Using the library Discovery system to search for primary documents. For items owned by NSU Libraries, choose the "Books and Media" tab from the library home page (link below).

Enter in key terms and add some of the keywords to narrow the search for primary source information. Some of the items will not be primary sources in the keyword search, but many will be.

  • oral histor* (Note: by placing an asterisk, the search will look for all variations of the root word, e.g. history, histories, historical)
  • "oral history" (Note: enclosing the phrase by using quotations marks, the search will locate records with the complete phrase)
  • personal narratives
  • speeches
  • documents
  • diaries
  • memoirs
  • interviews
  • archives
  • microform
  • letters

Combine these keywords with search terms:

  • "cold war" and memoirs or use "cold war" memoirs
  • president speeches or use campaign speeches
  • reconstruction documents
  • immigration sources

Controlled Vocabulary

Most databases use a controlled vocabulary to organize information and make browsing more efficient and specific to chosen terms. When building your search string, consider keywords, synonyms or related terms.

indigenous peoples
indigenous peoples and alaska
indigenous peoples and 20th century
indigenous peoples and first nations
indigenous peoples of the americas
​indigenous peoples - sovereignty
indigenous populations
indigenous rights
indigenous peoples and movements or activitism
indigenous peoples and hawaii
​creek indians AND history
creek indians AND ethnic identity
cherokee indians
​native americans
​native peoples
native races
native american history
five civilized tribes
native american history AND 20th century
​native american wars
native americans - treaties
native american arts
treaty indian reservations

Combine or group terms or concepts using the Boolean operator "AND" to refine your search string:  native american history AND 20th century or indigenous peoples AND hawaii or try the search string:  creek indians AND oklahoma . Check to see if the database offers a Thesaurus or a Subject Terms tab or link. For instance, the database Academic Search Premier offers a "subject terms" tab, and the Military & Government Collection database features a "subjects" tab, while ProQuest offers a "thesaurus" link.  Enter terms in the Browsing box to see how the database recognizes them.


Depending on the database, it may offer a variety of ways to limit your results:

  • Full Text
  • Scholarly or Peer Reviewed
  • Publication  or Document Type (journal articles, book reviews, reports)
  • Published Date

For articles that are not available in full text, use the InterLibrary Loan service.