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.
This page suggests resources to use when researching the lives of your ancestors who spent time in Australian states or territories other than Victoria. While the State Library of Victoria may hold maps of interest, we recommend you also contact the relevant state or territory library, as they are likely to hold a wider range of maps.
1. Library Catalogue. To find relevant maps in the catalogue, choose the Maps tab and then try searching with keywords relating to the area where your ancestor/s lived, such as the names of towns or suburbs. Once you have a list of results, you may also find it useful to refine your results using the options on the left, for example, you can limit by creation date.
2. Trove. This site lets you find resources held by libraries all over Australia. To find relevant maps in Trove, choose the Maps tab and then try searching with keywords relating to your area where your ancestor/s lived, such as the names of towns or suburbs. You can limit your search to maps that are available online by checking the box below the search box.
3. Topographic maps. We have detailed topographic maps of most, but not all, of Australia. These maps show the natural and constructed features of an area, such as contours, waterways, vegetation, buildings, bridges, railway lines, roads, parks, shipwrecks and more.
4. 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, particularly as many of the non-Victorian maps are not yet catalogued.
Topographic maps show the natural and constructed features of an area. By examining the topography of an area you can easily see how difficult it may have been for an ancestor to traverse a mountain or large lake to get to the closest town or even to church or school. In the past these geographical structures served as solid boundaries that seriously affected migrations.
Topographic maps are usually created as part of series published by government departments. It takes many years, or even decades, for a whole state to be surveyed for a series.
Topographic maps show both natural and man-made features, revealing features such as contours, buildings, rivers, lakes, vegetation, parks, roads, train-lines, shipwrecks, cliffs, lighthouses, piers and more. They are produced at a range of different scales. Large scale maps (those showing smaller areas of land) provide the most detail.
For most states and territories the Library holds topographic surveys that were begun in the late 1960s at the scale of 1:50,000 and 1:100,000. For Tasmania there is also a series at the scale 1:25,000.
Place a map inquiry to discover relevant topographic maps.
As of June 15 2020 the Library is open with reduced spaces and services.
Our Ask A Librarian reference service is still available to assist with your research inquiries.