Saturday, January 19, 2013

Metes and Bounds Part II

Public Service Announcement: Here is a great article from the Wall Street Journal about finding skeletons in your family tree. When a Genealogy Hobby Digs Up Unwanted Secrets .

Metes and bounds rears its ugly head again. Here is my original post on Metes and Bounds. You can see that I am not a fan. I told y'all recently that I am taking the National Genealogical Society's Home Study Course as a continuing education opportunity and to fill in any learning gaps I might have. Guess what I have to do for lesson 9. Yup, you guessed it. I have to to draw a metes and bounds land description. The reason I am mentioning this is that I found a tutorial on metes and bounds in an unusual location. In my recent Researching the "Genealogy" of a house blog post, I linked to Marian Pierre-Louis' list of recommended resources. In the book House Histories: A Guide to Tracing the Genealogy of Your Home by Sally Light, there is an excellent section on how to draw metes and bounds land descriptions (p. 271-4). With this, along with the info provided by the NGS, I am not hating metes and bounds quite as much.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. How could you hate metes and bounds? They are LOVELY! Those squares of Public Lands State System are, well, un-imaginatively square.

    Metes and bounds take you for a gentle walk, some nice examples starting at the pub are at .

    OK, I am biased and the above comments are made with tongue firmly in cheek. I love figuring out land records because they offer such rich information.

    Records of individual English manorial land holdings are typically nowhere near as helpful as metes and bounds, which describes the size and shape of the land parcel. I blogged about the problem It turns out that land descriptions based on who used the land, maybe some neighbours and acreage get re-used for centuries, so by the time any ancestor recent enough to be on your family tree owns it, the description bears no relation to contemporary landscape.

  2. I have to say that after doing the metes and bounds lesson for the NGS I am feeling a little less intimidated but now you tell me there is another system that is WORSE? I just read your blog post. Wow, just wow. None of my American lines lead to the British Isles until before the Revolutionary War (my maternal side is all in Germany/Prussia).

    I will also say that I would love to attend a SLIG course. Airfare is an issue for me too and I only live in Georgia!

  3. Now that you've come to your senses ;), if you truly get into metes and bounds, I recommend the DeedMapper software. The owner/developer is very patient and helpful to beginners trying to use his application, and I highly recommend it for genealogists-turned-surveyors.

    I've been using it to try to place some colonial SC land plats on contemporary maps, and the difficulties arise from the colonial copyists, not the mapping software.

  4. I have been toying around with the idea for some time thinking it would make my life easier. So you think it is a good thing then? I will need to look at it again. I try and get my hands on the original surveyors drawings instead of mapping stuff out myself :) They are even nice enough to write in the adjoining property holders names for me :)

    1. You need the original plat, or at least a transcription, to use DeedMapper. The power of Deedmapper lies in relating the plat(s) to an underlying map. By placing the plat of interest, and the adjacencies of interest, on a map, you can re-create a neighborhood, discover where the land is located today, etc. This is particularly useful when an original plat is missing, but you can use other plats with adjacency information to re-create the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle.

      Of course, the further back in time you go, the harder this is to accomplish. In addition to the usual problems reading old documents, colonial surveys- at least in SC- were often recorded by clerks who had no idea what the 'gibberish' meant, so there are a lot of plats where you have to use guesswork. They probably couldn't read the surveyor's handwriting any better than we can read theirs ;)