Maps are a vital part of genealogical research. Recognizing their historical and genealogical value, the Massachusetts State Library initiated a major project to digitize a part of their collection.
The Massachusetts Real Estate Atlas Digitization Project, supported by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, is working to digitize the collection of about 200 atlases. These volumes provide 6,500 maps of areas throughout the Commonwealth.
To date the project has digitized 167 of the 200 volumes; almost 85% of the collection! The earliest published volume digitized to date is an atlas of plans to subdivide the estates of William C. Barstow in East Boston, created in 1857. The earliest maps, however, are much earlier. In 1894 an atlas of Boston was published with maps created in 1819–20. This excerpt shows the Granary Burying Ground (labeled simply Burying Ground), and the house on Unity Street (at the corner of the alley just up from Love Lane) built by Benjamin Franklin’s sister and brother-in-law, later owned by Franklin himself.
The largest part of the collection is comprised of 50 atlases of various parts of the city of Boston in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. The most recent of all the materials in the online collection is a 1938 atlas for Back Bay and the central part of Boston.
Maps are not limited to Boston, however. You can find towns across the state in these atlases. This small section of a map of the town of Seekonk in an atlas of Bristol County published in 1895 shows the eighteenth-century farmhouse where my family lived while I was in high school. No names are present, but the small black squares on the mapeach represent a building.
The files are available in both PDF and jpg format. While neither is searchable, it is very easy to browse both versions. The PDF files are on the DSpace platform that holds all of the digital collections of the library. The jpg files are on Flickr. If you have ancestors in Massachusetts, visit the library’s page for the Massachusetts Real Estate Atlas Digitization Project and check out these resources.