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.

Pinpointing localities known by variant names

There are many towns, cities or regions in the world which have had different names at different times or have been known by different names by people from different cultural or linguistic communities. Official name changes often occur when political boundaries of states change.

In the course of your family history research you may come across a place name that no longer exists. The following checklist suggests resources of use when researching localities which have been known by more than one name:

1. Books of alternate and changed place names. Such as Place-name changes 1900-1991 and Alternate names of places: a worldwide dictionary both by Adrian Room. 

2. Gazetteers. Try general gazetteers, such as the Columbia gazetteer of the world Alternately, find gazetteers relating to your region of interest in our Library catalogue combining keywords relating to your area of interest and the word gazetteer.

3. Historical Atlases. Try world atlases such as a Times world atlas or the Andrees Handatlas. Alternatively, find atlases of specific countries or regions in our Library catalogue combining keywords relating to your area of interest and the word atlas. If you have a reference to a place name at a given date, look for an atlas published around that time.

4. Resources for researching Central or Eastern European localities. As well as trying the resources above, try these:

  • JewishGen ShtetlSeeker. This online database allows users to search for localities across Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia, even where the correct spelling of the place name is not known. The results will suggest possible matches, listing information including their place names, coordinates, current country and links to maps.
  • Kartenmeister. This online database covers place name changes in the provinces of Eastprussia, including Memel, Westprussia, Brandenburg, Posen, Pomerania, and Silesia.
  • Where once we walked. This gazetteer was created as a guide to researching Jewish communities destroyed in the Holocaust. The listings include variant names, allowing you to discover the official names of places which you only know by an unofficial name (which often bear no resemblance to the official name). There is also an index by sound, so even if you don't know how to spell a placename correctly, you may still be able to identify the town.

State Library Victoria

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