Maps for local and family history

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

Central Melbourne/CBD

The following checklist suggests resources of use when researching central Melbourne.

1. Library catalogue. To find relevant maps in the catalogue, select Maps from the drop-down menu to the right of the search box and try searching with various keywords relating to your area of interest, such as street names, names of key buildings, and the word Melbourne. Once you have a list of results, you may find it useful to refine your results using the options on the right, for example, you can limit by creation date.

2. Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works plans. These maps created by the MMBW from 1895 onwards, plot the outlines of features such as buildings, roads, parks and tramlines of the city and suburbs in detail.

3. Mahlstedt fire insurance plans. Several editions were created between 1888 and the 1960s for fire insurance purposes. They provide fairly detailed mapping of inner Melbourne buildings. 

4. Street directories. There have been several street directories of Melbourne, including Moultons, Morgans, Melways and UBD.

5. Cityscope and the Unit Report. Provides information about city properties such as the names of occupants and owners, sales histories, building names, addresses, and years built.

6. Other resources. Depending on the nature of your research, you might also consider looking at a variety of other resources, such as directories, topographic maps, gazetteers or the historical plans collection.

MMBW plans

Beginning in 1895, the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW) produced several series of maps of Melbourne and her suburbs. The Library holds an extensive collection of MMBW plans.

MMBW detail plans

From 1895 until the mid 1950s, the MMBW surveyed the whole of metropolitan Melbourne. The maps drafted to record the survey findings, at a scale of 40 feet to 1 inch (1:480), are know as the MMBW detail plans. 

The exact level of detail recorded varies during the decades of surveying reflecting varying financial constraints. For this reason, plans from different eras may present slightly different levels of detail.

It is important to be aware that most areas were only surveyed once. This means that if your house was built in the 1920s, but your suburb was surveyed in 1905, there will not be a record of your house in the detail plans.

All of the MMBW detail plans in our collection have been digitised and are available on the catalogue, but be aware that although we have close to 3,000 plans, we do not hold every plan in the series.

Refer to the research guide on How to read the MMBW 40ft to the inch detail plans for more information.

MMBW 160 feet to 1 inch series

Although these plans are at a larger scale (1:920), and therefore don't generally provide as much information as the detail plans, this series sometimes reveals the construction materials of buildings.

Other MMBW maps series: The State Library holds examples of several other map series drafted by the MMBW. All of the alternate series are at smaller scales than the "detail plans", so they generally provide less detailed information.

Find MMBW plans in the catalogue: Select Maps from the drop-down menu to the right of the search box and combine the term "MMBW" with the names of local suburbs or streets. Using the names of two intersecting streets usually works well.

The University of Melbourne have digitised plans from the 160 feet to 1 inch, 1:500, and 1:9600 series.

Mahlstedt fire insurance plans

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 in the city of Melbourne. Between editions changes to buildings were recorded by pasting overlays over the original maps. In some cases the State Library of Victoria holds several copies of the same volume each containing slightly differing overlays.

Central Melbourne Mahlstedt fire insurance plans: The Melbourne volumes of the Mahlstedt fire insurance plans cover the central grid of the city of Melbourne. The first series was produced in 1888 and covered the city grid bounded by Flinders, Lonsdale, Spencer and Spring Streets. Later series were split into two volumes, and covered streets as far north as Victoria Street. Anything south of Lonsdale St is known as 'Section 1', while anything north of Lonsdale St is known as 'Section 2'. Maps in 'Section 2' have an A in their map numbers i.e. 3A, 16A, 20A.

The Library also holds sets of Melbourne Mahlstedt plans from the 1920s, 1948 (southern volume only) and 1962 (northern volume only).

South Melbourne (Southbank) Mahlstedt fire insurance plans: The Library also holds several sets of South Melbourne Mahlstedt plans, which cover the area now known as Southbank. Sets are held dating from the 1920s, 1930s, 1950s and 1960s.

Find Mahlstedt fire insurance plans in the catalogue: Select Maps from the drop-down menu to the right of the search box and search with the terms mahlstedt "city of melbourne" or mahlstedt "south melbourne".

The Royal Historical Society of Victoria and the University of Melbourne Library hold additional copies, which vary in content/date.

Key to Mahlstedt plans

Key to Mahlstedt plans

Click on image for larger view

Street directories

There have been several street directories of Melbourne including Moulton's (1911-1916), Morgan's (1917-1971), Collins' (1922-1952), UBD (1955- ) and Melway (1966- ).

Many editions of the Moulton's, Morgan's and Collins' directories can be viewed online. To access printed directories, request the items from the catalogue, and they will be delivered to the Redmond Barry Reading Room for you to use.

The University of Melbourne have digitised a selection of Melway street directories between 1966-1999.

Melbourne Cityscope and the Melbourne Cityscope unit report

Cityscope was a printed serial providing information about properties. Entries are typically quite brief, and may include names of owners and occupants, dates of construction and refurbishments, sales histories, valuations, building names and addresses.

Cityscope covers commercial properties in the Melbourne CBD (from 1977-2021), Docklands (2005-2021), St Kilda Road (from 1984-2021), Southbank (from 1991-2021). The Melbourne Cityscope unit report covers residential properties in the CBD (from 1994-2021).

It is no longer available in print. New content is available through an online database, but the Library doesn't hold a subscription at this time.


The precursor to today's telephone directories, directories provided listings of addresses of businesses and/or householders.

Well-known Victorian directories included the Sands & McDougall Victorian directories (1912-1974), the Sands & McDougall Melbourne directories (1862-1911) and the Sands & Kenny Melbourne directories (1857-1861).  One in every five Sands & McDougall directories from 1860 to 1974 have been digitised. The University of Melbourne has digitised every year of the Sands & McDougall directories from 1857 to 1880.

The Department of Environment Land Water and Planning (DELWP) have launched a project called  Victoria Unearthed.  It's a mapping tool designed to help you find out more about land, groundwater, past business activities and potential contamination. It uses information from historical business listings in the Sands and McDougall Victorian directories. There is a supporting website and data is available for download via DataShare.

There were also many other Victorian directories, most of which have been microfiched and are available in the Library's Genealogy Centre (GMF 98).

Some directories included maps, either as part of the main volume, or as a separate sheet. At the Library, some of these separate sheet maps are held in the Maps Collection. For example, we hold several maps produced by Sands & McDougall.

Morgan's, Moulton's and Collins street directories for 1912-1952 have been digitised and include maps, street name indexes, and advertisements.

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.

A Mahlstedt plan

Mahstedt example

An example of a Mahlstedt fire insurance plan

Aerial photography

The University of Melbourne has an extensive collection of historic aerial photographs covering Melbourne and Victoria, many of which have been digitised and are free to download. See the university's online research guide, Aerial photography resources for Melbourne and Victoria. Within the guide is an online application that compares Melbourne in 1945 to modern times.

Airspy is a collection of photographs taken from aeroplanes. The photographs cover parts of Melbourne from the 1920s to the 1960s. Search the catalogue using keyword 'airspy' and the area you are interested in, for example, airspy south melbourne.

Digitised map collections at the University of Melbourne

The University of Melbourne have digitised a selection of Australian and international maps, including maps of Melbourne and Victoria.

City of Melbourne Interactive Map

The City of Melbourne have produced an online interactive map that includes information relating to properties, features and assets located within the City of Melbourne municipal area.  It features content from historic maps including the 1895 MMBW detail plans and the facility to overlay the content with modern imagery.

Melbourne planning schemes

A planning scheme is a statutory document setting out objectives, policies and provisions for the use, development and protection of land in the area to which it applies. It regulates the use and development of land through planning provisions to achieve those objectives and policies.  Planning schemes include maps that show how the land is zoned and overlays affecting the land.

Current and historical planning scheme records are available online through the Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning website.

The Department have also created an interactive map using data from planning schemes.  The map allows searching by a property address, Melways reference or lot and plan number and the ability to view planning zones and overlays with the facility to customise your view of each planning scheme.

Planning scheme records from 1946-1997 are available at the Public Record Office of Victoria (PROV).

You can find a number of items relating to the Melbourne planning scheme by searching the Library's online catalogue.