Welcome, fellow genealogists! My blog will teach you about U.S. land records and United Kingdom research. My family has roots in Niagara County, New York; Norfolk, England; and northeast Germany.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Metes and Bounds

If you were a Boy Scout or Girl Scout, you have no reason to fear a deed’s land description expressed in metes and bounds, a system of mapping land using distance and compass headings.  Generally, land in the original thirteen colonies, plus Maine, Vermont, West Virginia,Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, Hawaii, and parts of Ohio were surveyed with this system.* Let’s define the terms:

            Metes are distances, usually measured in feet. Older deeds will use poles, rods, chains and links. One rod or one pole is 16.5 feet.

           Bounds are direction, measured in degrees, minutes and seconds. There are 360 degrees in a circle, 60 minutes (‘) in a degree, and 60 seconds (“) in a minute. The bound noted as N. 4° 11’ 18” E. is read ‘north 4 degrees, 11 minutes and 18 seconds east.’ On a map or survey with north at the top of the page, this line would appear almost straight up and down, with its north end leaning a little to the right.

The point of beginning is the place where the description starts, and it is almost always on the road or street. In a modern description, one travels clockwise around the parcel with the street frontage being the last mete and bound given. If a line is curved, such as the frontage on a cul-de-sac, the length of the arc is given along with the radius of the circle that produced that arc.
In the following example and many other times, the metes and bounds method is supplemented by referring to owners or former owners of abutting land. If land is in a surveyed subdivision, the description might refer to lot numbers of the abutting parcels.

Here is the legal description from a 1975 Amherst, MA deed. It is a four-sided corner lot, almost rectangular.
“Beginning at the southwest corner of the tract at the highway monument numbered five, thence running due north along said Lincoln avenue one hundred and twenty-six and six-tenths (126.6) feet to an iron stake set at the corner of land of one Welles; thence N. 88° E., ninety-six and seven-tenths (96.7) feet to an iron stake set at the land on one Parkhurst; thence S. 1° 30’ E. along said Parkhurst land one hundred and twenty-six and seven-tenths (126.7) feet to Amity Street; thence S. 88° 30’ W., along said Amity Street one hundred and nine-tenths (100.9) feet to the point of beginning. “

                                    Hampshire County, MA Registry of Deeds, Book 1847, Page 61

If you wonder why I picked this example, it’s because all the angles are about 90°, (90°, 88°, 1° 30’, and 88° 30’) and the lot is almost squarely oriented north and south. The orientation is quite rare in the eastern United States. 
Let’s walk around this Amherst lot, compass in hand. From the corner marker, walk 126.6 feet straight north. Next consult your compass to find 88 ° east of north – so almost due east, walk 96.7 feet. For the third side to be parallel to the first side, you would need to walk due south. However the description states that the line is 126.7 feet long 1° 30 minutes east of south or slant a little to the left as you walk this line. Now walk to the point of beginning along Amity Street, the angle should be 88° 30 minutes west of south and the length 100.9 feet.  The deed states “The above description is according to survey made April, 1925 by F.C. Moore.”
*Parts of upstate New York were owned by the Holland Land Company. Its system to locate and describe land used squares and distances from preset, imaginary lines. It was modified and used in the West. Today we call the new version the Government Survey or Public Land Survey System.

©2011 by Susan Lewis Well

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