Monday, July 23, 2012

Metes and Bounds (Or, Just Shoot Me Now!)

Question from Val:
I am looking at some Georgia land records and I just don't get it! How am I supposed to understand this?

Ah Georgia, one of the fine states that uses the metes and bounds surveying system. If it were up to me, metes and bounds would be illegal. There is one (and only one in my opinion) advantage to metes and bounds. The land descriptions will include the names of the owners of the adjoining land at the time of the survey. This can be very useful.

I am only going to give you the bare bones explanation of metes and bounds because I am no expert (and I don't want to be). I will give you some good resources to learn more about it. If you decide you like metes and bounds I will give you a call when I need a piece of Georgia land plotted out. I would like to mention that there is another land surveying system called the Public Land Survey System (Rectangle Survey System). The smart states use this one. It is very easy to understand and very easy to plot. I will save that for another blog post.

The states that use metes and bounds are the "state land states" as opposed to the "public land states." The state land states are CT, DE, GA, HI, KY, ME, MD, MA, NH, NJ, NY, NC, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, VT, VA and WV. This would be the original 13 colonies, New England and a few others thrown in. Some of the other states also used metes and bounds in their earliest history and then switched to the Public Land Survey System.

Metes and bounds uses compass directions in degrees and various lengths, commonly chains, links, furlongs, rods and poles. So far it isn't too bad. The part that makes it difficult is that the surveyors used non permanent landmarks as the starting point and for corners. For example, the starting point might be an oak tree or a pile of rocks. Try finding that spot today. You can easily draw the size and the shape of the land but positioning that drawing exactly where it goes on a map is a little more difficult (more like impossible). There is an excellent step by step tutorial on how to draw a plot using metes and bounds in the recommended book below as well at the site listed.

Here is a typical metes and bounds description:
Beginning at the red oak on the west side of Black Creek, thence southwest 30 degrees 62 chains to the fork in the trail leading to Oak Grove and Sumrall, thence south 82 degrees west 46 chains to the granite rock. From the granite rock along the boundary of William Graham's line southwest 8 degrees 18 rods to the white oak, thence 42 degrees southwest 74 chains to the corner of William Graham and Isaac Yates' boundaries. From said corner, thence in a southwest direction 35 degree, 39 chains to the lightening struck red oak, thence 45 degrees northeast 86 chains, thence north 70 degrees east 30 chains to the bank of Black Creek.

I don't know about you, but that makes me dizzy. Here are some good resources to learn more:

There are some software programs out there that will map your metes and bounds for you. I have a couple of them listed below. I have not used these myself so I can't vouch for them. I suppose if I was overwhelmed with several plots at one time that I needed to get mapped out in a hurry I might consider it (I try real hard to stay in the public land states so that I won't have to worry about this happening).

If you LIKE metes and bounds I would love to here from you!

Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. LOVE your title! Thanks,
    Thanks :-)
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)

  2. I SO agree with your title!! As a paralegal who has to deal with metes & bounds legal descriptions from time to time, I HATE to proof those. Terms like "thence" and "easterly" and "southwesternly" can send me to the bottle (of Mountain Dew)!!! I have one of the original deeds for an ancestor but I have put off transcribing it for fear of going crazy!! Keep up the great work!!

  3. Lucky for me most of my personal research is in MS, AL and LA which are all public land states :) Some of the very earliest deeds before statehood are metes and bounds but the bulk of what I do isn't. I love mapping out parcels using the rectangle system. SO EASY! Thanks so much for stopping by, Denise!

  4. Hi! I copied the URL of your post because I am from SC, a "state land state," and now I understand why I don't understand my ancestors' records of land purchases. I got here from a later post which I'll now go back to. Thank you for doing this and for the links! I SO identify with your just-shoot-me-now approach. I'm going to try to acclimatize to all this bit by bit. Thanks!

  5. I am right next door in Georgia which is also a metes and bounds state. Most of my ancestors are in MS and AL but I have a couple of lines in GA and SC. Arg!