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Prior to the Revolutionary War, when land was surveyed, the “metes and bounds” system was used to define boundaries. The system is still in existence today for land which was acquired before the present system of surveying land was adopted. States which used this form of surveying were the thirteen original colonies (Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia) as well as the state land states Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Texas, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia and parts of Ohio.
The word "metes" is defined as the direction and distance of a line; the line forming the boundary of the property. To find the direction, a compass was used indicating north, south, east, west as well as the degree of direction between 0 and 90. Various forms of measurement were used to determine distance. For example the following terms were common when doing a metes and bounds survey:
- link: 7.92 inches
- perch/pole: 16.5 feet or 1/4 chain or 25 links or 198 inches
- rod: 26.5 feet
- chain: 66 feet 4 rods or 100 links
- furlong: 664 feet
"Bounds" refers to the naming of physical features in defining the boundaries of the land. Therefore, when land is surveyed in this manner, the results can be quite interesting. Common terms might be the name of a tree, creek, owners of land bordering the property and even piles of rocks.
In a metes and bounds land description, there is a starting point which is always at a corner. This is followed by directions and measurement which may be written in a variety of ways, indicating a line leading to the next corner. The corners will generally be a physical feature.Often the property owners will be mentioned who bound the land being described.
An example of what might be found in a metes and bounds deed follows:
Leonard, Rutland county, Vermont 1885
Beginning at a stake and stones about forty feet from the center of the brook that runs across the road South westerly from the dwelling house of the late Arnold Leonard deceased now occupied by the widow Phrelove Leonard and in the west line of the highway leading by the dwelling house now occupied by the widow Phrelove Leonard. Thence Westerly three rods to a stake and stones. Thence northerly five rods to a stake and stones. Thence Easterly three rods to the west line of the highway. Thence Southerly to the place of beginning containing fifteen rods of ground be the same more or less.
Note that there is a starting point (stake and stones about forty feet from the center of the brook) The "mete" (direction and measurement) sections are indicated by: south westerly from...west line of...westerly three rods to...northerly five rods to...easterly three rods to the west line of...southerly to the place of beginning containing fifteen rods of ground. The "bound" (physical feature) sections are indicated as: runs across the road now occupied by...the highway leading by the dwelling house now occupied by...to a stake and stones...line of the highway...to the place of beginning. Note those who have land bounding this property as the widow Phrelove Leonard and the late Arnold Leonard.
Drawing (platting) the boundaries of a land parcel can offer additional insights to the land record. The term “platting” generally refers to property that is described in metes and bounds. The term “graphing” is more applicable to rectangular survey (township and range).
- This may help determine if the same amount of land was sold as was purchased. If not, this is a clue as to other records of acquisition or subdivision.
- Common neighbors are identified which might lead to other records and who may be current or future relatives.
To Learn How
- If you wish to learn how to plat land, see the wiki page entitled Platting Land located in the United States Land and Property section.
For Additional Information
- E. Wade Hone, Land and Property Research in the United States(Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry, Inc., 1997). (FHL 973 R27h) WorldCat entry. Has a section describing metes and bounds (pages 61 - 65) and a section on platting metes and bounds (pages 89-96).
- Powell, Kimberly "Metes, Bounds and Meanders - Platting the Land of Your Ancestors" About.com : Genealogy, a part of the New York Times Company, 2010
- "Metes and Bounds vs. Public Lands Analysis of the System of United States land Surveys"Virtual Museum of Surveying
- "Metes and Bounds" Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia 2010