Skip to Main Content

Researching Your Home: Atlases and Maps

Related Guides

Why do I need to look at a map?

Boundaries of Boston neighborhoods have shifted over the years; you may need to check the records of surrounding towns or counties:
  • Roxbury and West Roxbury were once part of Norfolk County
  • Charlestown was once part of Middlesex County
  • Parts of Dedham (Norfolk County) were annexed to West Roxbury in the 1850s

Some street names have been changed;

The numbering systems for streets may have changed;

There may be streets with the same name in different neighborhoods in the city;

Buildings may have multiple addresses;

Documents may be missing and incomplete
  • Many gaps before 1900
  • Some documents have been missing for years, perhaps destroyed or stolen

Maps and Atlases in the BPL Collections

Its mission is to use the collection of 200,000 maps and 5,000 atlases for the enjoyment and education of all through exhibitions, educational programs, and a website that includes more than 3,700 digitized maps at

The Research Services Department holds the major part of the Boston Public Library's holdings of microfilm, microfiche, and microprint. The Department's holdings include roughly 163,000 rolls of microfilm, 2.5 million microfiche, and 6,345 boxes of microprint.

The Department's holdings are based on format. The subject areas covered by the Department overlap the coverage of other departments. The Department's holdings complement and supplement the holdings of the subject-based departments.

Among the Department's holdings are:

  • biographical dictionaries
  • business and trade directories
  • census population schedules for New England
  • ERIC
  • genealogy and local history
  • immigration passenger lists
  • newspapers, with a concentration on Massachusetts newspapers
  • presidential papers
  • regimental histories of the American Civil War
  • retrospective collections of American, British and Canadian publications
  • Sanborn Fire Insurance Atlases
  • United States city directories
  • Compiled collections of:
    • black history
    • civil war
    • historic disasters
    • presidential assassinations
    • history of photography
    • labor history
    • women's history
    • other subjects


The easiest way to find urban atlases at the BPL is by using Atlascope, a new discovery tool developed by LMEC


Atlascope allows you to overlay historical atlases over modern day maps, and compare changes across time.


Jump right in, or read the Atlascope User Manual to learn how it works!

Online Resources

A historic digital map database of North America and the world, includes United States Property Atlases, Antiquarian Maps, Nautical Charts, Birdseye Views, Special Collections (Celestial Maps, Portraits, and other historical images), Directories and other text documents. 
The State Library has completed the digitization of the majority of its Massachusetts real estate atlas collection. These materials are now available online in Digital Commonwealth, and as PDFs in their institutional repository, DSpace. The digitized collection of atlases includes 167 volumes with over 6,000 maps and other illustrations. They include statewide, county and municipal atlases from throughout the commonwealth, with the majority published in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

The Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) is the planning and economic development agency for the City of Boston. The department consists of 200 professionals who serve the City in a variety of ways—from architects who review the smallest details of a historic building in Roxbury to project managers who host a community meeting for a new affordable housing project in Dorchester. The BPDA is charged with planning the future of neighborhoods with the community, charting the course for sustainable development and resilient building construction, responding to the city's changing population, producing insightful research on the City, and ensuring Boston retains its distinctive character.

The Boston Atlas
The Boston Atlas is the BPDA's public internet mapping application. It includes data from many city agencies, including the Assessing Department and the Boston Water and Sewer Commission, as well as information from neighboring towns and state agencies. Information such as building footprints, planning areas, land parcels, and streets can be combined with aerial photography and historical maps to make custom maps.