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Surveys & Surveying

The first settlers in America measured out their lands for individual or public holdings on the basis of "metes and bounds," the shape of a tract being determined by natural features.

The present rectangular survey was adopted under the Land Ordinance of 1785 , which provided for the survey of all public land into townships six miles square. Townships run from base lines and principal meridians . Each township has a range number which identifies the number of rows either east or west of the principal meridian and a township number which identifies the number of rows north or south of the baseline. Every description of land should show the section, township and range in which it is located.

A township is divided into thirty-six sections, each a mile square. The sections are numbered beginning from the northeastern corner, and moving west, then east along the second row, then west again along the third row, and so forth until finally ending at number thirty-six in the southeast corner. Sections 16 and 36 were usually set aside as school lands. Under this survey system it is possible to provide the legal description of a tract using terms such as N 1/2 (north half), SE 1/4 (southeast quarter), etc. Thus it is relatively easy to determine the precise location of a tract of land from a description if it is read from largest to smallest unit of land measure. If your land description reads: SW1/4, Sec 8, R77 W, T151n, your land is township 151 north, range 77 west, the southwest quarter of section 8.

The County Register of Deeds Offices in North Dakota create and maintain a tract index and should be able to provide the correct legal description for the land you are searching. They will also be able to supply the Homestead Application Number and the Final Certificate Number which the National Archives will need to provide copies of paperwork generated in securing a Homestead. To obtain copies of these records, write to: Office of the National Archives, Land Records Division, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington DC 20408.

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