Maps are an important source in locating where your ancestors lived because they help you see the neighboring towns and geographic features of an area.
Maps identify places, parishes, districts, churches, geographical features, and transportation routes, and their proximity to other towns. Historical maps are especially useful for understanding boundary changes.
Maps are published individually or in atlases, which are bound collections of maps. Maps may also be included in gazetteers, guidebooks, local histories, and history texts.
Different types of maps can help you in different ways. Historical atlases describe the growth and development of countries. They show boundaries, migration routes, settlement patterns, military campaigns, and other historical information. Road atlases are useful because they provide detail of the countryside. Ordnance survey maps show townships in great detail—up to half inch to the mile. City and street maps are extremely helpful when researching large cities such as Sydney; they provide locations of churches, cemeteries, businesses, government offices, and monuments. Other types of maps include parish maps, county atlases, and topographical maps.
Maps must be used carefully for several reasons:
- There are often several places with the same name.
- The spelling (and even names) of some towns may have changed since your ancestors lived there. Some localities have different names in different languages. For example, Hahndorf, South Australia, changed names three times within a 20-year period. Prior to 1918, the town was known as Hahndorf. It was renamed Ambleside in 1918 and returned to the name Hahndorf in 1935. The Aboriginal name for the area is Bukartilla.
- Place names are often misspelled. Difficult names may have been shortened, and important diacritic marks may have been omitted.
- Aboriginal names and spellings have been retained and in some cases anglicized. For example, Conkar may be found as Kongarong on some maps.
- Political boundaries are not clearly indicated on all maps.
Finding the Specific Town on the Map
To do successful research in Australia, you must be able to identify the town where your ancestor lived. Because many towns have the same name, you may need some additional information before you can locate the correct town on a map. Gazetteers can help because they identify the district or state your ancestor’s town was in and distinguish it from other towns of the same name. (See the "Gazetteers" article of this wiki.) Before using a map, search gazetteers, histories, family records, and other sources to learn all you can, such as:
- The state your ancestor’s town was in.
- The state or country your ancestor came from.
- The name of the town where your ancestor was baptized or married.
- Towns where related ancestors lived.
- The size of the town.
- The occupation of your ancestor or his or her relatives (this may indicate the size or the industries of the town).
- Nearby localities, such as large cities.
- Nearby features, such as rivers and mountains.
- Industries of the area.
- Dates when the town was renamed.
- Dates the town existed.
- Other names by which the town was known.
Finding Maps and Atlases
Collections of maps and atlases are available at numerous historical societies and at public and university libraries.
Major map collections for Australia can be found at the National Library of Australia. For the address, see the "Archives and Libraries" article of this wiki.
The Family History Library has a small collection of Australian maps and atlases. These sources are listed in the Place Search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
Additional Map sources are available by adding a state to the Place Search.
- AUSTRALIA, [STATE] - MAPS
The following are helpful atlases and maps for Australia:
- The Reader’s digest complete atlas of Australia including Papua-New Guinea. Sydney, Australia: Reader’s Digest Association, 1968. (Family History Library Call No. 994 E3r.)
- Australians: A Historical Library. Volume 2, Australians, A Historical Atlas. Broadway, N.S.W., Australia: Fairfax, Syme & Weldon, 1987. (Family History Library Call No. 994 H2ahVol. 2.)
The following is a directory of Australian maps and atlases:
- O’Connor, Maura. Map collections in Australia: A directory. Canberra, A.C.T., Australia: National Library of Australia, 1991. (Family History Library Call No. 994 E74o.)