United States Land Terms and Definitions

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Land Terms and Definitions[edit | edit source]

Acre 10 square chains or 160 square rods, 43,560 square feet or 4840 square yards; 640 acres = 1 square mile

Base line An imaginary line running east and west; a baseline intersects with a meridian

Bounds  Used in land measurement, this term refers to the naming of physical features.

Bounty land warrant  A title to a specified amount of land which was issued by the United States War Department upon presentation of evidence that the applicant had served in the Continental Line during the American Revolution.

Cadastral maps  County atlases which give the names of landowners in the county and the acreage they own.

Cash entry files  A file containing the paperwork for cash land sales, kept at the National Archives 

Chain  66 feet or 4 rods or 100 links

Deed  The written legal document transferring ownership of property

Direct index: Index of those selling the land.  Same as grantor index.

Dower right  The widow's portion of an estate for use during her lifetime

Escheat  Land ownership that reverted to the government by default

Federal land/Public domain states  Thirty states whose land was initially controlled and dispersed by the federal government: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Forward index: Index of those selling the land.  Same as grantor index

Freehold  Land that can be used only during the person's lifetime 

Grant  To sell, convey, or donate

Grantor  The seller

Grantee  The buyer

Headright During the colonization of the eastern United States, one was granted a "headright" of land for importing himself or another into the colonies. Headrights, usually 50 acres, could be bought or sold. Abuses of headrights occurred.

Homestead  A tract of land obtained from the government by a settler under a homestead law.

Indirect index: Index of those buying the land.  Same as grantee index.

Land entry case file  A file containing the paperwork related to a parcel of land and kept by the General Land Office on each applicant

Land grant  A grant of land which was for military duty or by a special act of Congress.

Lapsed land  Land that had not been seated within the specified time period reverted to the government.

Lease and release  Common method of selling land in the Colonial period. The deed was made for the consideration price of one peppercorn or something similar. The next day another deed was made out naming the full selling price. This is not a deed of gift.

Link 7.92 inches

Meander lines  A term used in surveying to denote imaginary lines drawn on land which borders waterways in order to determine how much land is involved.

Meridian  An imaginary line running north and south; a meridian intersects with a base line

Messuage  Refers to a dwelling and other buildings

Metes  This term is used in land measurement and refers to the direction and distance of a line.

Metes and bounds  A combination of terms describing land measurement and features, mostly used in state land states 

Moiety  An equal part

Mortgage  Money borrowed from another using property as collateral

Patent  The legal document showing the initial transfer of land from the government

Perch/Pole/Rod 16 1/2 feet or 1/4 chain or 25 links or 198 inches

Plat  1) A small parcel of land, 2) a map or drawing of a land parcel

Preemption  A filing for the first rights of purchase for a parcel of land

Range Townships in a line running from north to south.

Rectangular Survey Measurement of land based on township and range descriptions, used in public domain states

Reverse index: An index of those buying land.  Same as grantee index.

Seating land  This term meant that the patentee planned to make certain improvements to the property within a given period of time.

Section  A measurement of land which consists of one square mile or six hundred and forty acres

State-land states  States which controlled and dispersed land owned by the state: Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, 
Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Township 1) A measurement of land six miles by six miles, 2) Townships are measured in a north/south from a base line. 3) a governmental unit responsible for an area of approximately thirty-six square miles.

Tract  1) A parcel of land, 2) a portion of a meridian section about twenty four miles square, containing sixteen townships

Congressional Township Rectangular Survey Grid.png

References[edit | edit source]

  • Evans, Barbara Jean. A to Zax: A Comprehensive Dictionary for Genealogists and Historians, 3rd ed. Alexandria, Virginia: Hearthside Press, 1995.
  • Hatcher, Patricia Law. Locating Your Roots: Discover Your Ancestors Using Land Records. Cincinnati, Ohio: Betterway Books, 2003. 
  • Hone, E. Wade. Land & Property Research in the United States. Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry Incorporated, 1997.