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 to research the lives of your ancestors from rural or regional Victoria.
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 streets, towns or regions.
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 or subject.
Parish plans are the most heavily used part of the Maps Collection among family historians at SLV. If your ancestors are from rural or regional Victoria, a parish plan is likely to be the most detailed historical map you will find of the area they lived. A large number of our parish plans have been digitised and are available online.
From 1837 the Government surveyed and subdivided land in Victoria with the intention of selling it. Township, parish and county plans (or "cadastral" plans) recorded information about the transfer of land from the Crown (the Government) to private ownership or lease-hold. Plans were produced for each of Victoria's 37 counties, 2004 parishes and 909 townships. They show the boundaries of lands which were occupied, reserved or sold along with the date of purchase, the acreage and, post 1862, the relevant file number for that selection or sale. Some parishes in remote areas have no parish plan - in these cases the county plans act as record plans.
These plans provide information about land-ownership (such as property boundaries, names of grantees, and dates of grants), as well as more general information about an area such as the size and shape of local settlements, the location of buildings or other structures and the location of natural features such as rivers, lakes or mountains.
They are particularly useful to family historians who are seeking to identify the properties that a particular ancestor purchased from the Crown. They also contain correspondence file numbers (where applicable) which can be used to request correspondence files that now reside at the Public Record Office of Victoria (PROV).
It is important to remember that these plans record only the transfer of land from the Crown to private ownership - they do not give information about subsequent sales. Contact the Land Titles Office to discover this information.
The State Library of Victoria has an extensive collection of over 10,000 plans in print, microfiche and aperture card, but we do not have copies of every Victorian parish plan.
Identify your parish: refer to the township and parish guide which is available online. Search for a town in the List of townships proclaimed to discover the name of the relevant parish. Alternatively, refer to the online map of Victorian parishes
Find and view plans: In the online catalogue, choose the Maps tab, then enter the terms real property parish, and the name of the parish you wish to find.
Interpret plans: refer to the guide created by PROV.
Plans in other agencies available online: Significant collections of Victorian parish plans are also available online from PROV (parish plans are series 16171). This PROVguide outlines how to access the online parish and township working plans. The series contains digitised copies of parish and township working plans, as well as closer settlement, land settlement, soldier settlement, county and other miscellaneous working plans.
For more detailed information on accessing records relating to Crown land, consult Lands guide : a guide to finding records of crown land at Public Record Office Victoria.
If your ancestors were early Victorian squatters, or you are interested in looking at the history of your ancestors’ land, squatting directories can be a useful resource.
Until the 1850s, the government supported a system of pastoral squatting such that pastoralists could lease ‘runs’ for an annual fee. This system began to be phased out around the time of the discovery of gold, when the government decided it was time to unlock the land (which was perceived as being ‘idle’ and ‘unproductive’ in the hands of a few hundred sheep-feeding and cattle-grazing squatters) and sell it off in smaller parcels to settlers who would farm it and support families and build regional communities. Pastoral licenses were still being re-issued up until the 1870s, although these licenses did not prevent the pastoral runs from being surveyed and sold off to settlers.
Squatting directories list who held or owned various properties at different times and include information about the location of properties.
Key Victorian agricultural/pastoral/squatting directories:
1835-1851, Pastoral pioneers of Port Phillip by R.V. Billis and A.S. Kenyon. Lists pastoral licensees of the Port Phillip district and runs occupied from 1834-1951. This resource has been digitised and is now available online.
1834-ca.1880 - Victorian squatters by Robert Spreadborough & Hugh Anderson. Entries lists who held or owned various properties and when, as well as providing a reference number. At the back of the book are maps of each region showing the location of each pastoral run (indicated by reference number). To make it easier to use the maps from this book, the maps team have assembled a complete map of Victoria out of the individual maps featured. You can use this map, with the book or with the reference number, to easily locate a particular property.
1849 - The Squatters' directory (online). Provides a list of all the occupants of crown lands in the intermediate and unsettled districts of Port Phillip. This directory has been scanned by the Library, so it can be viewed online.
1874-75 - The Victorian squatting directory. Lists the names of the lessees and runs.
There are many maps which show the location of pastoral runs, stations and squatter's runs at different times in Victoria's history. Some of these maps also include an index or directory, allowing searching by property owner/holder or locality. Many can be viewed online, others can be viewed at the Library.
Maps of early Victorian squattor/pastoral holdings, arranged by date:
1851 - Ham's squatting map of Victoria (online) - Thomas Ham
1854 - Ham's squatting map of Victoria (online) - Thomas Ham
1860 - Squatting map of Victoria (online) - James J. Blundell & Co
1861 - Squatting map of Victoria, Port Phillip District, New South Wales (online) - James J. Blundell & Co
1863 - Victoria 1863 (view at Library) - Department of Lands & Survey, Melbourne
1864-5 - Squatting map of Victoria (online) - Thomas Ham
1869 - Victorian pastoral stations (online) - W Owen
To find maps of pastoral runs in our catalogue: search in the maps tab of our online catalogue using the keywords: land tenure victoria
To find maps of pastoral runs in other collections: search the map section of Trove with keywords such as land tenure victoria. Many of these are available online.
If your ancestors were early settlers in Victoria, the Historical Plans Collection contains maps which may provide details about their lives and the places they lived.
The Historical Plans Collection is a collection of approximately 8000 maps on microfiche, covering the first 60 years of European settlement in Victoria. For many areas, the maps in this collection are the earliest maps available.
The series includes a wide variety of map types, including parish plans, coastal surveys, pastoral run plans, mining department maps, maps of roads, train lines, cemeteries or goldfields, geological and topographical surveys, and many others. While many of the plans relate to the early land subdivision of Victoria into counties, parishes and townships, other information shown on the plans include descriptions of soils, native vegetation, or mineral deposits, the location of buildings, tracks used by early settlers, the location of pastoral runs and early place names.
The information on these maps can be quite hit and miss with features included or excluded according to the whims of the surveyor.
Find maps in the Historical Plans Collection: in the online catalogue, enter the terms historical plans and then the area you are interested in (for example, historical plans Gippsland). To view maps from this collection, please submit a map inquiry.
The Public Record Office of Victoria (PROV) hold the originals in their archive and have digitised about half of them with the remainder to become available over the next year.
We have over 500 digitised mining maps spanning from approximately 1870-1890. Specific to the Ballarat district, they cover the subdivisions of Gordon, Creswick and Ballarat, along with some maps of Bendigo.
The maps show plans of land for gold mining lease applications, along with details regarding whether the applications were successful. They are of particular interest to local and family historians, as they include names of individuals. Only the names of the people applying for mining permits are included in our catalogue records, however the maps themselves include names of people who occupied the surrounding areas.
You can search the online catalogue for the name of an individual. Enter the name of the person into the search box and select Maps from the drop-down menu to the right. If you don't get any results at first, try searching using just the surname, as sometimes only the first initial and the surname appear on the map.
Topographic maps show the natural and constructed features of an area. By examining the topography of an area you can form a picture of an ancestor’s life. You may be able to determine 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 a series published by government departments. It takes many years, or even decades, for the whole state to be surveyed for each series. The oldest Victorian topographic series we hold is the Victorian Army Survey, which was begun in 1916. Over many years approximately 90 maps were created which document the topography of much (but not all) of the state, at a scale of 1 inch to 1 mile.
Key Victorian topographic map series include:
Topographic maps show both natural and man-made 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 more information: see the page on our website on Victorian topographic maps.
Place a map inquiry to discover relevant topographic maps.
First issued in 1888, the Mahlstedt fire insurance plans were drafted by a fire insurance company to record detailed information about the form and construction of buildings. The plans are rich in information, including the number of levels in a building, construction materials, location of fire-protected and unprotected openings, and the names of businesses.
The library holds one set of Mahlstedt plans for Geelong from 1933, a set for Ballarat from 1934 and a set of Bendigo plans from 1935. If your ancestors worked in these towns, these plans may provide further information about the places they worked or the businesses they owned.
If you know the place name your ancestor lived, but no other information, a gazetteer can be a good place to start your research.
Gazetteers are reference books which provide basic information about locations, such as the co-ordinates and population size. You can then use this information to locate a place on a map. Gazetteers can be useful for finding places which may have changed names and cannot be located on a modern map.
Some Victorian gazetteers
Baillieres Victorian gazetteer covers 1865, 1870 and 1879
Victorian place names and registration districts (for use with Victorian birth, death and marriage indexes) includes a list of places now known by another name.
Names of Victorian railway stations (published 1918, available online) tells you what train line an old town or suburb was on. It also gives you details of where names originated, and sometimes a brief history of a town's development.
Find Victorian gazetteers in our catalogue: search in the online catalogue, using for the subject Victoria Gazetteers.
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.
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.