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The following information about understanding land descriptions is courtesy of Steve Schmidt and his  Shiawassee County History web site http://www.shiawasseehistory.com/index.html

Michigan's early farm plots looked like a patchwork quilt with fence row stitching. This was the result of the Ordinance of 1735, which divided the land into squares before it was sold. Thomas Jefferson proposed the rectangular system of survey, with boundaries that ran north and south, east and west. Each survey township was subdivided in thirty-six sections of 640 acres, when practical.

A land description is a description of a tract of land in legally acceptable terms, so as to show exactly where it is located and how many acres it contains.

The U.S. Land Office originally subdivided Michigan, most of the U.S., west of the Mississippi River and north of the Ottic River, plus Alabama, Mississippi and portions of Florida under the U.S. Public Land Survey. This office organized land descriptions into a series of townships, ranges and sections.

Basically, a township is a square tract of land with sides of six miles each and containing 36 sections of land.


All county court houses keep the original surveys.  When Michigan was first surveyed, engineers knew that it was impossible to keep true north and south direction of township lines and still keep getting township squares of 36 miles.

Because of very large tracts of land, like the size of Michigan, as it was surveyed toward the North Pole, engineers were constantly running out of land as the township lines were converging toward the North Pole - Have you ever noticed a road which runs through the county, at the county line, it does not line up exactly with the opposing county road? There seems to be a "jog" of 100 feet or so? 

Government surveying of townships is run from starting lines called base lines and principal meridians.

The above map shows the Base Line....running east and west.
And it shows the Meridian.....running north and south.


Each township has a township number, which is the number of rows or tiers of townships that a township is either north or south of the base line. Each township also has a range number which is the number of rows or tiers of townships that a township is either east or west of the principal meridian.

The sections within a township are numbered in a serpentine manner, always beginning in the township's northeast corner and ending in the southwest corner of the township.

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

The best way to read land descriptions is from the rear or backwards. Descriptions of land are always read first from either the North or South. Every description of land should show the section, township and range it is located in. Townships may be located either north or south of the base line, and ranges may be either east or west of the principle meridian.

Each township contains 36 sections and each section contains 640 acres or one square mile.  For example, in Figure 6, below, description No. 1 reads SE 1/4, SW 1/4, SW 1/4. The last part of the description reads SW 1/4, which means that the tract of land we are looking for is somewhere in that quarter (shown in Figure 4.) Next back, we find the SW 1/4, which means that the tract is in the SW 1/4 of the SW 1/4. And next back, we find the SE 1/4, which means that the tract is in the SE 1/4, SW 1/4, SW 1/4, as shown in Figure 6 below. 

A congressional township contains 36 sections of land one square mile. A civil or political township may be larger or smaller than a congressional township.

Finally, township, range and the section number should be added to the land description to make it correct or proper legal description of a tract of land. 




Maps Downtown Points Of Interest
How To Read A Land Desription Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Land Patent Records
Portage Plats Understanding Legal Land Description - Rootsweb

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