Maps for local history

A guide to using maps to aid your Victorian local history research.

Subject librarian

Sarah Ryan's picture
Sarah Ryan
Contact me via our online reference service citing my name and the title of this guide


This guide describes the different kinds of Victorian maps held within our collection and explains how they can be used for historical research. Most of our Victorian maps have been catalogued, so this guide also gives tips on how to search for them.

Your selection of maps will be largely determined by the nature of the locality that you are researching: urban, suburban, rural/regional or agricultural. This guide is structured to reflect this. Click on the tabs at the top of this page to view the relevant pages.

The Maps Collection is not open for public browsing. Use the catalogue to identify maps, then place a request. At a pre-negotiated time, your material will be delivered to the Heritage Collections Reading Room for viewing. Many maps can be viewed immediately online, via our catalogue.

Don't worry if you don't know exactly what you are after - simply put in a maps inquiry specifying the kind of information you are hoping to find and maps staff will select appropriate resources on your behalf.

Good luck with your research.

Why use maps for your local history research?

Maps are an important source for local history research. They reveal information that cannot be found in any other sources, and they often make information found in other sources much clearer.

Historical maps can help you to reconstruct what life was like in your local area. For example, a town plan showing features such as houses, businesses, churches and schools can help you to imagine the kinds of jobs and educational opportunities that were available. If another source, such as a newspaper article or a diary entry, mentions particular locations, a detailed map may allow you to pinpoint their exact whereabouts. Topographic maps reveal the natural features of the area, such as creeks, hills, swamps or forests, or even the kinds of soils or rocks in the region.

Maps can reveal:

  • the layout of a particular town or locality at a particular point in time
  • clues about what life in a particular place might have been like
  • how a place changed over time
  • the exact location of the home, work-place or property of a particular individual
  • the exact location of places mentioned in other sources
  • the location of historical features which no longer exist

If you are seeking information about the economic, environmental or social conditions at a particular time, you may find it helpful to consult an atlas from that era. Atlases can be a source of economic, environmental, social and statistical information about areas - usually at a state or country level.

If you are publishing a local history, including maps will enhance your publication. Maps make it easier for your readers to understand the developments in the area and to follow the narratives that you describe. Including a series of maps can be particularly useful to illustrate how a locality has changed over time. Not all your readers may be locals, so you might also want to include a map that locates the subject of your local history within Victoria.

Finding maps

State Library Victoria