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.

British Isles (England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales)

This page suggests map resources to try when researching the British or Irish origins of your family.

The suggested resources are arranged according to geographic location. Due to Victoria's historic links to Britain, the Library has particularly strong holdings of maps of the British Isles (England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland).

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 resources can be of use when researching localities in the British Isles:

1. Gazetteers These reference books provide basic information about locations, such as the co-ordinates and population size. Some gazetteers give quite detailed descriptions of places. By accessing historical gazetteers you can find out not only where a place was, but also some key information about that locality at a particular point in time.

2. Ordnance survey plans. Extremely detailed maps produced in several series since the early 1800s, covering most of the British Isles.

3. Selected key British maps resources. Lists of key useful map resources relating to England and Wales, Ireland or Scotland, including resources for discovering parish and other administrative district boundaries.

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. Note however that many of the British maps have not yet been catalogued.

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, particularly as most of the non-Victorian maps are not yet catalogued.

British Isles - Gazetteers

Gazetteers are reference books which provide information about locations, such as the co-ordinates and population size. Some gazetteers give quite detailed descriptions of places. There are many gazetteers in our collection, covering England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales at various points in time. By accessing historical gazetteers you can find out not only where a place was, but also some key information about that locality at a particular point in time.

Some British and Irish Gazetteers:

Cassell's gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1894-98)

Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1882-85)

Gazetteer of England and Wales (1841) (MF available)

General Index to the Townlands and Towns, Parishes and Baronies of Ireland, based on the Census of Ireland for 1851

Find British and Irish gazetteers in our catalogue: search in the catalogue, using any of the following subjects: England gazetteer, Ireland gazetteer, Great Britain gazetteer, Wales gazetteer or Scotland gazetteer.

British Isles - Ordnance Surveys

Early in the nineteenth century the Ordnance Survey Department began producing the first of several series of detailed surveys that mapped much of the British Isles. Note that the actual date that an area was surveyed may have been several years prior to the publication date.

British ordnance plans were produced at two scales: 6" to the mile and 1" to the mile.

Ordnance surveys of England and Wales

British History Online provide online access to a selection of early ordnance surveys, including all of the first 6" to the mile surveys. Maps at this scale are detailed enough to show roads, buildings, farms, mines, railways and stations. They also show contour lines. This makes them a valuable resource for local and family historians.

The National Library of Scotland has digitised its entire ordnance survey 6" to the mile (or 1:10,560) County Series, which covers all of England and Wales from the 1840s through to 1950s.

A range of ordnance surveys can also  be viewed or purchased from Old-Maps online.

The State Library of Victoria holds copies of the following ordnance surveys:

  • 1" to the mile maps produced by the Ordnance Survey Department provide excellent coverage of most of the British Isles. Most of our maps at this scale were published in the 19th Century, however we also have a series dating from 1918-26.
  • 6" to the mile maps produced by the Ordnance Survey Department. Our collection of these remarkably detailed plans covers most of England and Wales, generally published between 1830 and 1940. 
  • The Village London atlas reproduces ordnance surveys of the London area from the three series published between 1822 and 1903.

Ordnance surveys of Scotland

The National Library of Scotland has digitised their ordnance survey maps of Scotland, which can be viewed online, along with several other series of Scottish historical maps. Many of these maps have been georeferenced allowing you to compare a location to how it appears today. 

The State Library of Victoria also holds copies of the following ordnance surveys:

  • The 1" to the mile maps produced by the Ordnance Survey Department provide excellent coverage of most of the British Isles. Most of our maps at this scale were published in the 19th Century, however we also have a series dating from 1918-26.

Ordnance surveys of Ireland

Irish Ordnance Surveys are available online via Ordnance Survey Ireland. Simply zoom in on the relevant location and choose the historical overlay you wish to view from the dropdown menu.

The State Library of Victoria also holds copies of the following ordnance surveys:

  • 1" to the mile maps produced by the Ordnance Survey Department provide excellent coverage of most of the British Isles. Most of our maps at this scale were published in the 19th Century, however we also have a series dating from 1918-26.
  • 1" to the mile maps surveys of Ireland . Our set of this Irish survey produced between 1864 and 1895 is incomplete - very few sheets covering the north or central areas of Ireland are held, and coverage of the south is not complete. However, the complete set can be viewed in the book Ordnance Survey of Ireland.
  • 6" to the mile surveys of Ireland. We hold remarkably detailed plans of most of Ireland from a series published between 1833 and 1844. 

Find British ordnance survey plans in our collection: If you are unable to find maps using the online resources listed above, submit a map inquiry, letting us know precisely where your area of interest is, to view maps from this collection.

British Isles - selected key resources

Parishes and registration districts

It can be important to know in which parish or registration district a place was located so that you can find the relevant records.

The Family Search map site shows the boundaries of various jurisdictions (parishes, counties, civil registration districts, dioceses, deaneries, poor law unions, hundreds, provinces and divisions) as they were in England in 1851.

The Phillimore atlas and index of parish registers can be used to determine the parish of localities in England, Wales and Scotland. Also also available online in the library, through the Ancestry Library Edition database.

A genealogical atlas of England and Wales can be used to determine the parish of localities.

A new genealogical atlas of Ireland can be used in conjunction with the General alphabetical index to the townlands and towns, parishes, and baronies of Ireland to discover which administrative district holds historical records for a given place.

A genealogical atlas of Scotland can also be used to determine the parish of a given locality.

Maps and atlases of towns and cities

Town and city maps of the British Isles, 1800-1855 includes reproductions of early 19th Century maps of mostly major British towns, such as Cambridge, Liverpool, Belfast, Aberdeen and York.

Tithe maps

Tithe was a tax which was paid to the local church, and tithe maps were created to keep track of owners and occupiers in a particular area. These maps were mostly created in the mid-19th century. Some UK councils have made their tithe maps available online. To locate a tithe map, visit the relevant UK council website to see if they have been digitised. Norfolk is one example of a council that has digitised their tithe maps.

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.

Ordnance survey

Detail from an 6 inch to a mile Ordnance Survey of London that was published in 1894-1896 

State Library Victoria

LIBRARY CLOSURE  

In line with the stage 3 restrictions announced by the Premier, State Library Victoria closed on Thursday 9 July.

We will advise when there is any update to this situation.

Our Ask A Librarian  reference service is still available to assist with your research inquiries.