If you have researched land records in the Public Domain (all states not including the Colonies, Texas or Hawaii), you would be familiar with the square, grid-like Section, Township, and Range survey method. Learn more about it in from this blog post. It may then come as a surprise to discover that the Colonies were surveyed in methods not even resembling anything square, grid-like and uniform. Intrigued? Let me show you what I mean.The general system term to describe the system used was “metes and bounds,” that is to say it was a very organic survey method that was often dictated by the topography and other pre-existing landmarks. A typical survey may include references to a nearby creek, the neighbor-farmer’s property, a particularly large tree, the adjoining road, or a natural stone edifice. It is where the property line “metes” one landmark or another and / or is “bounded” by an observable landmark – metes & bounds.
The Survey Description
While the survey was mapped as you might expect, it was also written in a narrative form. The description would be simply an observation of the distances and relevant landmarks as noted if one was to walk the perimeter. Imagine walking the edge of your yard and describing what you see…It is bounded by “X” street for 100 yards, then turning North 45 degrees at the fire hydrant, it is bounded by “Mr. Neighbor’s property for 40 yards…”
The Problem with Metes & Bounds
And while that may work fine for one property or even a whole community, it has its drawbacks.
- Can’t be scaled easily to encompass a large area let alone the entire United States
- The landmarks can be subject to the ravages of time. What happens if the river changes course or someone moved the boulder?
- It is very difficult to apportion the land to heirs or purchasers and maintain a coherent provenance of ownership.
Below is a fictitious, illustrative example of a metes and bounds survey.
In the next couple of blog posts, I’ll expand on this and show you how whole communities surveyed the land in manners that best served the needs of the community.