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Knowing exactly where your ancestor lived and who his neighbors were are very helpful tools in completing the full picture of your ancestor’s life. I have found the information derived from land records to be an excellent source for this information. You can find when your ancestor purchased the land and when his neighbors did as well. Many times families married those who lived nearby and once you know how to determine who lived where and when, the picture will start to take shape.

 

Reading and understanding land documents really is quite easy, once you know the process. Hopefully my explanations below will get you figuring land maps of your own and making new discoveries!

 

 

Diagram 1 (below) shows the layout formula of townships and ranges. Everything starts from a center point and moves either, north, south, east or west from there.

 

The center is where the Principal Meridian (North to South) and the Baseline (East to West) meet. Note at the very center of this display all townships and range numbers are “1” and then increase as they radiate from the center. I have only shown 2 increments in each direction, but the same principal applies as you move farther from the center.

 

 

 

T 2 N

R 2 W

T 2 N

R 1 W

T 2 N

R 1 E

T 2 N

R 2 E

T 1 N

R 2 W

T 1 N

R 1 W

T 1 N

R 1 E

T 2 N

R 2 E

T 1 S

R 2 W

T 1 S

R 1 W

T 1 S

R 1 E

T 1 S

R 2 E

T 2 S

R 2 W

T 2 S

R 1 W

T 2 S

R 1 E

T 2 S

R 2 E

Diagram 1

 

The township highlighted in Blue would be read as:

Two townships north of the Base Line and two ranges east of the Meridian

 

 

I will use my ancestor, Asa Dickerson as an example. Asa owned 160 acres with the legal land description of; SE ¼, Sec. 1, T 19 N, R 20 W. Diagram 2 is of Asa Dickerson’s property, which we will explore in more detail as we go along.

You can see in diagram 2, how the numbers have radiated from the center point illustrated above. Hence Asa’s property would be read as 19 townships north of the base line and 20 ranges west of the meridian.

 

T 20 N

R 21 W

T 20 N

R 20 W

T 20 N

R 19 W

T 19 N

R 21 W

T 19 N

R 20 W

T 19 N

R 19 W

T 18 N

R 21 W

T 18 N

R 20 W

T 18 N

R 19 W

Diagram 2

 

Each township is then further divided into sections. Each township contains 36 sections, which comprise 36 square miles, each section being 1 square mile. The sections are numbered 1-36 and are counted first from right to left and then left to right as shown below.

 

 

 

 

6

5

4

3

2

1

7

8

9

10

11

12

18

17

16

15

14

13

19

20

21

22

23

24

30

29

28

27

26

25

31

32

33

34

35

36

Diagram 3

 

 

 

 

6

5

4

3

2

1

6

5

4

3

2

1

6

5

4

3

2

1

7

8

9

10

11

12

7

8

9

10

11

12

7

8

9

10

11

12

18

17

16

15

14

13

18

17

16

15

14

13

18

17

16

15

14

13

19

20

21

22

23

24

19

20

21

22

23

24

19

20

21

22

23

24

30

29

28

27

26

25

30

29

28

27

26

25

30

29

28

27

26

25

31

32

33

34

35

36

31

32

33

34

35

36

31

32

33

34

35

36

6

5

4

3

2

1

6

5

4

3

2

1

6

5

4

3

2

1

7

8

9

10

11

12

7

8

9

10

11

12

7

8

9

10

11

12

18

17

16

15

14

13

18

17

16

15

14

13

18

17

16

15

14

13

19

20

21

22

23

24

19

20

21

22

23

24

19

20

21

22

23

24

30

29

28

27

26

25

30

29

28

27

26

25

30

29

28

27

26

25

31

32

33

34

35

36

31

32

33

34

35

36

31

32

33

34

35

36

6

5

4

3

2

1

6

5

4

3

2

1

6

5

4

3

2

1

7

8

9

10

11

12

7

8

9

10

11

12

7

8

9

10

11

12

18

17

16

15

14

13

18

17

16

15

14

13

18

17

16

15

14

13

19

20

21

22

23

24

19

20

21

22

23

24

19

20

21

22

23

24

30

29

28

27

26

25

30

29

28

27

26

25

30

29

28

27

26

25

31

32

33

34

35

36

31

32

33

34

35

36

31

32

33

34

35

36

Diagram 4

 

Diagram 4 above, shows the layout of 9 townships. Each is 36 square miles. The reason I have shown so many is so you may see how to figure where other sections and townships are in relation to the one you are researching. As you recall, Asa owned land in Section 1, township 19 north, range 20 west and is highlighted in green. If I wanted to search for his neighbors I could look in sections 1,2,11 and 12 of T19N, R20W but also would look in sections 6 and 7 of T19N, R19W and also section31 of T20N, R19W and sections 35 and 36 of T20N, R20W, thereby looking in all townships surrounding his.

At first glance it will look a bit confusing with all of the T’s, R’s and numbers, but if you actually say aloud what the letters and numbers stand for it will become much easier.

 

 

Now for the final breakdown:

The full legal land description of Asa’s property is;

 

SE Sec.1, T19N, R20W which is in Richland County, Ohio.

 

Each section is divided into ¼’s and then divided further if needed. In Asa’s case he owned the entire SE (Southeast) ¼ of section 1, which is 160 acres, shown on diagram 5.

 

NW ¼

NE ¼

 

SW ¼

SE ¼

 

Diagram 5

 

If Asa had owned only 40 acres, say the SE ¼, SE, Sec 1, T19N, R20W then you would have to divide the section down a bit smaller like so…

 

NW ¼NW

NE ¼ NW

NW ¼ NE

NE ¼ NE

 

SW ¼NW

SE ¼ NW

SW ¼ NE

SE ¼ NE

 

NW ¼ SW

NE ¼ SW

NW ¼ SE

NE ¼ SE

 

SW ¼SW

SE ¼ SW

SW ¼ SE

SE ¼ SE

 

Diagram 6

 

Sometimes you will run across land purchased as the SE ½, SE, Sec 1, T19N, R20W, which would only mean he owned 80 acres, both the upper and lower ¼’s of the SE ¼ of the full section. See diagram 6 above.

 

Land descriptions are always written with the smallest part first, so in drawing them it is easiest to work backwards, from the biggest to the smallest. SE ¼, SE, Sec 1, T19N, R20W would be worked like this…

 

20th range west of the meridian, 19th township north of the baseline, section 1 of township 19, southeast quarter of section 1, southeast ¼ of the southeast ¼ of section 1. (Actually 1/16th of the SE ¼)

 

Once you start to draw a few maps of your own it will become clear how to read the land description. Just remember it is just dividing a square into smaller and smaller sections until you are down to the smallest part.

 

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