Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Land Plats and Family History

Family Maps of Boone County;
1st ed., Boyd, GregoryAlan, 1960
Land Plat Section Numbers Had Purpose
Email Question: I stumbled on a genealogy land oddity.  My ancestor homesteaded section 16 of his township.  The big question is who owned this land, and how did my ancestor get it? 
(Note: not complete quote from the email).

Let's give a bit of background of land surveys. In 1779, Thomas Jefferson suggested that every county in Virginia be divided into 5-6 mile squares in order to support school efforts.  In 1784 public land surveys were added which lead us to the 36 mile parcels of 640 acres or "Sections" of today.

The Land Ordinance of 1785 established the method needed to divide and sale public lands.  By 1785 lands northwest to of the Ohio River and west of the Mississippi river were all divided into 6 miles square townships. The 1785 Ordinance also included Section 16 of each Township be set aside for maintenance of public schools.  This is to suggest that each township include a 640 acre School Land parcel, Section 16.

Why Section 16?
Section 16 falls somewhere in the middle of each township.

Tracing Landownership of Section 16
As in this case, the ancestor at one time actually owned Section 16. She asks: So the big question is who owned the land [...]and how did my ancestor get it? 

No time-frame was provided, but here are a few hints to begin your Section 16 or any land plat search for lands set-aside.  

If your ancestor owned the land before the ordinance, begin with deeds, patents, wills, etc. But if he got it after the ordinance, you may wish to brush up on the states' laws.  Some states bonded out land during the wars.  This is often seen during the Civil War where many towns were desecrated. And although the lands had been previously surveyed, upon return to familiar towns or settlements of open lands, people "homesteaded" or squatted in Section 16 lands. This practice was not foreign during the War of 1812 either.

Another reasonable answer: border changes. As town and state borders changed there was a blur as to the validity of previously surveyed lands. Re-surveying records may differ from the originals.

Next Steps
These 3 suggestions may lead you to answers when researching Section 16 lands that were set aside for schools.
1) Determine year of acquisition by ancestor and  review community history of city and state. Was this town devastated by a war or natural disaster and forced to be re-settled or resurveyed?
2) Go back to the deed book. Deed books may tell you how an ancestor acquired the land but you may have to go back (or forward) several generations.
3) Analyze plat maps and county formation maps to determine county and border changes.

For More Information
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) "Our Record Keeping History" is a great place to find more information.

Kathleen Brandt

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