This Land Is Your Land

This Land Is Your Land

Do you have an ancestor's deed or land patent? The strange-looking land description containing letters and fractions is called “aliquot parts.” If you can decode the description, you’ll be able to figure out exactly where your ancestor’s land was. Aliquot parts is an important element in the public land...

Do you have an ancestor’s deed or land patent? The strange-looking land description containing letters and fractions is called “aliquot parts.” If you can decode the description, you’ll be able to figure out exactly where your ancestor’s land was.

Aliquot parts is an important element in the public land survey system (PLSS), also called the rectangular survey system, which was used to survey and divvy up land starting shortly after the Revolutionary War.

States with land surveyed under the PLSS, called Public Land States, are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

That’s everything except the original 13 states, Maine, Vermont, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas and Hawaii. (Parts of Ohio were surveyed with the old metes-and-bounds system, too.)

The PLSS established principal meridians—imaginary north-south lines—to serve as the starting point for surveying each 24×24-mile tract. A tract is divided into 16 townships; townships (23,040 acres) contain 36 sections, each 1 square mile (640 acres), like this:

A section could be split into halves, quarters or other parts. A description of your ancestor’s subdivision on a land record might look like N½ SW¼, which you’d read as “the north half of the southwest quarter.”

Here’s an example of how land might be divided and described in aliquot parts:

This free FamilyTreeMagazine.com article has more information about the PLSS and the Bureau of Land Management’s free federal land patent site.

One of the video sessions in Family Tree University’s Summer 2011 Virtual Conference, Aug. 19-21, is Diana Crisman Smith’s demo on platting your ancestors’ properties using PLSS. Learn more about the conference and register here.

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  1. My ggrandfather owned three successive farms in northern Ohio. One, bought in 1858, became downtown Ohlmstead Falls, near Cleveland. From there, they moved west to Milton Twp north of Bowling Green, and later to Liberty Twp in Henry County near Napoleon, SW of Toledo. Two summers ago, armed with information and maps from the Henry County and Wood County courthouses, we drove to the old farms. In both cases, of course, the land had passed to new owners. I wanted pictures. The pictures I got could have been taken in NW Ohio, in Indiana, in Illinois, Iowa or Nebraska! Large cornfields, with no buildings in sight! Oh, well, I know where they were, and what happened to the ten children Pat and Jane Conway raised to adulthood on those farms.

    Charlie Brown, Hendersonville, NC

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