Maps for family history

This is a guide to using maps for family history. It focuses on using the SLV maps collection, and on researching Victorian family history, including immigration to Victoria.

The rest of the World

While our Map Collection's strength is primarily in Australian and British maps, a varied collection of maps from other regions is also held. In particular, the Library has many maps of 19th Century India, of the trenches of World War 1 in France and Belgium, and of New Guinea before and after World War 2.

If you're having trouble locating a place, perhaps because you are unsure of the spelling of the placename or the nation-state in which it is/was located, refer to the page on locating places.

The following checklist suggests resources of use when researching localities in Europe other than the British Isles:

1. Gazetteers. These reference books provide basic information about locations, such as coordinates and population size. For most countries in the world we hold a United States Board of Geographic Names Gazetteer, produced between the 1950s and the 1980s. These gazetteers provide place names, a one word description, and the latitude and longitude. You can then use these coordinates to locate the place on a modern map. To find gazetteers search the catalogue, combining the place name with the word gazetteer (eg. Poland gazetteer or Afghanistan gazetteer).

2. Atlases. The library has many historical atlases of the World, as well as atlases of regions, such as Europe, Asia or the Americas. To find atlases, do a keyword search of the catalogue for the word ‘atlas’ and the name of the country or region you are interested in. Use the facets on the left side of the search results to narrow your results to your period of interest. You can also try searching for world atlases if we do not have an atlas specific to your country of interest.

3. Selected key map resources. List of interesting, useful maps resources.

4. Library catalogue. To find relevant maps in the catalogue, choose the Maps tab and then try searching with various keywords relating to your area of interest, such as the names of towns, villages or counties. Once you have a list of results, you can refine your results using the options on the left. For example, you can limit by creation date.

5. Maps selected by staff to meet your research needs. If you submit a map inquiry, maps staff may be able to find other kinds of maps, or related resources, that will help you with your particular research question.

Selected key map resources for other regions

Online resources from other collections

Old Maps Online allows you to browse the map collections of international libraries, including the British Library, New York Public Library and Harvard Library. Users can search geographically, using a world map, or via keyword search. 

The David Rumsey Map Collection features over 38,000 maps and images online. The collection’s main focus is on rare 18th and 19th century North American and South American maps, although Europe is also well represented. The David Rumsey MapRank Search allows you to select a region of interest on a modern world map, then view the historical maps available for that region.

The Perry-Castañeda Library at the University of Texas has digitised a large number of world maps, both historical and contemporary. Their collection features some of the best online coverage of Asia and parts of Africa.


A concise historical atlas of Eastern Europe maps Eastern Europe at key moments in history from Medieval times until 1996, with accompanying text providing explanations of the conflicts and political machinations that led to border changes.

Andrees world atlas 1912. This German atlas, published in 1912, and available in the Library on microfilm, is particularly useful for confirming the location of places in central and Eastern Europe.

Central European maps 1865 [microform] covers most of Germany (East and West), Belgium, Netherlands, Luxemburg, Poland, North-eastern France, and small parts of Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Czechoslovakia and the Baltic States.

CartoMundi This French resource contains 5000 digitial reproductions of maps representing Europe and Mediterranean countries.  

German maps & facts for genealogy. This book contains over 100 maps of German kingdoms, duchies and principalities, including information about the religions of the states, and the shifting borders of what was known as Prussia.

Stanfords useful maps: Sweden, Norway and Denmark. This nineteenth century atlas to the Scandinavian countries can be used to pinpoint villages your ancestors may have come from.


The Perry-Castañeda Library has extensive digitised map resources focussing on Vietnam and China, along with other parts of Asia.

Historical atlas of South-East Asia features maps of the region from key periods of history. These maps highlight changes caused by wars, colonisation and shifting borders.

The Americas

The Library of Congress' Map Collections page features digitised maps with a strong focus on the United States.

The history atlas of North America contains maps and contextual information covering key moments and topics in North American history up until 1998.


The Library holds a strong collection of colonial maps of India. Search the online catalogue using the Maps tab for the city or region you are interested in viewing. Some of these maps of India are uncatalogued, so if you can’t find what you’re looking for on the library catalogue, please submit a map inquiry.


Afriterra contains more than 2,000 maps focussed on Africa, mostly produced pre-20th century.

The history atlas of Africa contains maps and contextual information covering key moments and topics in African history up until 1998.

New Zealand and the Pacific

The National Library of New Zealand has a large collection of maps, many of which have been digitised. Search their online catalogue by place name, then use the menu on the left to narrow your results to online items.

Matapihi searches across online collections of cultural institutions in New Zealand. Search by placename combined with the word map.

The Indis of orient

The Indis of orient (1885)

Facsimile of Jean Rotz' map of Southeast Asia showing part of India, Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Java and part of Australia. Contains a detailed map border, and coloured figures and scenes.

Mapping the world

Mapping the world: maps and travel literature This new eresource contains nineteenth century maps drawn from the vast map repositories of the British Library and the National Archives (UK), maps of the Americas from the American Antiquarian Society, coverage of Canada & the polar regions from the University of Alberta, and select travel narratives from various sources, including the Bryn Mawr Collection of European travel accounts.  

Access to this database is freely available here at the library. Victorian residents who are state library members can also access this eresource from home.

WWI Trench map of Abbeville, France

Understanding scale

Large scale maps show a small area in great detail.

1:480 (which is 40 feet to 1 inch) is an example of a fairly large scale. At this scale 1 cm represents 4.8 metres.

Small scale maps show a larger area in less detail.

1:100,000 is an example of a fairly small scale - at this scale 1 cm represents 10 kilometres.