Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Metes and Bounds and Measurement

Understanding land measurements and methods and terms is necessary skill for all genealogists. However, I should note, that it is a lot easier to understand the technical aspects of real estate legal descriptions than it is to read the handwriting in old deed books. For an example, you might try the early books of deeds available on The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Southern Essex District, Registry of Deeds Website which has deeds dating back to October 20, 1641. Before the introduction of the Public Survey system, all deeds used some form of the metes and bounds type of legal description of the property. Generally, the description began at some know location and proceeded to describe the boundary of the property either by compass directions from the point or by natural landmarks. The metes portion of the description is in the most current unit of measure of the time.

The units of measure in old deeds are not really confusing if you convert them into current terms. For example, a chain is the length of a cricket pitch. The original measurement was called Gunter's chain or a surveyor's chain and is 22 yards or 66 feet. The whole of the United States was measured and mapped using the Gunters Chain and his chain still applies to all title plans in use today. For this reason all city blocks, roads and avenues are multiples of the chain. Towns were laid out at 6 miles square or 36 sq miles. Early farms were sold to would-be farmers as lots of 640 acres or 1 sq mile. Imperial Measures of Length. A chain was made up of 100 links, each 7.92 inches in length. These measurements were standardized in 1607 by Edmund Gunter in England.

A chain was also equal to 4 poles. Each pole was equal to 5.5 yards. One rod was the same as a pole (and also the same as a perch). Therefore a rod is 16.5 feet.

There was another type of chain, called the Ramsden chain or engineer's chain, which was equal to 100 feet. There are a number of Websites that will automatically convert any unit of measure to another. See for example.

The Manual of Instructions for the Survey of the Public Lands of the United States; 1973
Prepared by the Bureau of Land Management, Technical Bulletin 6; pub. U.S. Dept of Interior states as follows:
  • 1 yard = 3 ft = 0.9144 meter
  • 1 rod, perch, or pole = 25 links = 16.5 ft
  • 4 rods = 1 chain
  • 1 chain = 4 rods = 66 ft = 100 links
  • 10 chains = 1 furlong
  • 1 link = 1/100 of surveyor's chain = 7.92 inches
  • 25 links = 1 rod = 16.5 ft
  • 100 links = 1 chain = 66 ft
  • 1 furlong = 10 chains = 1/8 mile = 220 yards = 660 ft = 201.168 meters
  • 8 furlongs = 1 mile
  • 1 mile = 80 chains = 320 rods = 1,760 yards = 5,280 ft = 1,609.344 meters
  • league = 3 statute miles = 4,828.032 meters
Since an acre is 10 square chains, it is a lot easier to understand why there are exactly 640 acres in one square mile. When the U.S. adopted the Public Land Survey system of land survey it is now easy to also see why the system was based on sections (one square mile) of 640 acres.

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