Legal Land Descriptions in Federal Tow nship and Range System

In the Southern United States in the State-Land s tates, land is surveyed in the indescriminate metes a nd bounds system, not the federal township-range system. The metes and boun ds survey system uses natural land features, such as trees and streams, as well as neighboring land owners, along with distances to describe plots of land.

For further discussion of Land Records in the United States, see L and and Tax Records by William Thorndale inThe Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy (1984) edited by Arlene Eakle and Johni Cerny, Anc estry, Inc., Salt Lake City, UT.

The Township-Range System is also descri bed in most of the recent Plat Books of the counties in the Public Domain states , as well as many basic geology text books, such as Laboratory Manual for Physical Geology (1983) Sixth Edition, by Zumberge and Rutford, W.H. Brow n Co., Dubuque, Iowa.

Terms used in the Township and Range System:

Basic unit of the system, a square tract of line one mile by one mile containing 640 acres.
36 sections ar ranged in a 6 by 6 array, measuring 6 miles by 6 miles. Sections are numbered beginning with the northeast-most section, proceeding west to 6, then south along the west edge of the township and to the east.
Assigned to a township by measuring east or west of a Principal Meridian
Range Lines
North to south lines which mark township boundaries
Township Lines
East to west lines which mark township boundaries
Principal Meridian
Reference or beginning point for measuring east or west ranges.
Map of meridians & base lines from the BLM web server
Base line
Reference or beginning point for measuring north or south townships.
Map of meridians & base lines from the BLM web server

How the System Works.

[Graphical Display]

A specific township is identified as being north or south of a particular baseline and east or west of a particular principal meridian. For example, T3N, R1E of the 3rd Principle Meridian is the third township north of the baseline in the first range east of the Third Principle Meridian. This particular 36 square-mile area is located in southern Illinois.

The land description generally starts with the smallest part of the description and proceeds to the largest definition. For example, SE1/4 of NW1/4 of Section 3, T3N, R1E, 3rd PM would be the southeast quarter of the northwest quarter of section 3 in township 3 north, range 2 east of the 3rd Principle Meridian.

You may find some irregularly shaped townships and sections which result from surveying errors and other difficulties.

Constructing a Map

Constructing a map and identifying the location of a tract in the township-range system is much easier than in the metes-bounds system used in many of the older states.

Computer Programs to draw plat maps of tracts.

A detailed example of finding a tract.

| Legal Land Descriptions in the USA |

Last update: Monday, 21-Feb-2005 08:37:23 CST