Land Measurements

Understanding land measurement and terms is vital to genealogy research. I hope this will help you decipher the wills and  land records.

How to read land descriptions


OLD SURVEY MEASUREMENTS.

 Old surveys were often measured using a Surveyors Chain. These were literally chains made up of 100 links. Each Chain was 66 feet long. Each link was 0.666 of a foot...or 7.92" To convert the distances on a plat measured in chains (abbreviate Ch) simply multiply the distance in chains by 66.
 Another common unit of measurement was the Pole.   The Pole is exactly what it sounds like; a wood pole which was 16.5' feet long.
 To convert the distances on a plat measured in poles (abbreviated P) you must multiply the distance by 16.5  A Pole is sometimes called a "perch"on old surveys.

MILES   

A mile is defined as being 5,280 feet in length.
 

AREA MEASUREMENTS

  The standard unit of measuring land in the United States is the ACRE.
An Acre is equal to 43,560 square feet (Sq. Ft.) of area.   An acre is also equal to 10 square chains ( 66 x 66 x 10 = 43560 Sq. Ft.)  or 160 square rods (16.5 x 16.5 x 160 = 43,560 Sq. Ft.)
There are exactly 640 Acres in one square mile.
Seeing how older units of measurement like the chain and the pole can be converted into acres it is easy to see that seemingly odd distances (66' and 16.5') really did make sense.

WHAT DOES AN ACRE LOOK LIKE?
If you had a parcel of land that was exactly 1 acre in size and was perfectly square it would be 208.71' on each of the 4 sides. If the same lot were a rectangle 100' wide it would be 435.60' feet deep (long).

 

Manual of Instructions for the Survey of the Public Lands of the United States; 1973
Prepared by the Bureau of Land Management, Technical Bulletin 6;  pub. U.S. Dept of Interior

Methods of Survey

The methods described in this chapter comprise the specifications for determining the length and direction of lines.

DISTANCE MEASUREMENT

Units

2-1. The law prescribes the chain as the unit of linear measure for the survey of the public lands. All returns of measurements in the rectangular system are made in the true horizontal distance in miles, chains, and links. (Exceptions are special requirements for measurement in feet in townsite surveys, chapter VII, and mineral surveys, chapter X.)

Units of Linear Measure

1 chain

= 100 links
 1 chain = 66 feet

1 mile

= 80 chains

 1 mile

= 5,280 feet
 

Units of Area

1 acre

= 10 square chains

 

= 43,560 square feet

1 square mile

= 640 acres
 
The chain unit, devised in the seventeenth century by Edmund Gunter, an English astronomer, is so designed that 10 square chains are equivalent to one acre. In the English colonial area of the United States the boundaries of land were usually measured in the chain unit, but lengths of lines were frequently expressed in poles. One pole is equal to 25 links, and four poles equal one chain. The field notes of some early rectangular surveys in the southern States show the distance in "perches," equivalent to poles. The term now commonly used for the same distance is the rod.

Land grants by the French crown were made in arpents. The arpent is a unit of area, but the side of a square arpent came to be used for linear description. The Spanish crown and the Mexican Government granted lands which were usually described in linear varas. Both the arpent and the vara have slightly different values in different States. The conversions most often needed are shown in the Standard Field Tables.

 
Surveying measurements compiled by Margie over the years
Surveying Measurements
  • 1 yard = 3 ft = 0.9144 meter
  • 1 rod, perch, or pole = 25 links = 16.5 ft
  • 4 rods = 1 chain
  • 1 chain = 4 rods = 66 ft = 100 links
  • 10 chains = 1 furlong
  • 1 link = 1/100 of surveyor's chain = 7.92 inches
  • 25 links = 1 rod = 16.5 ft
  • 100 links = 1 chain = 66 ft
  • 1 furlong = 10 chains = 1/8 mile = 220 yards = 660 ft = 201.168 meters
  • 8 furlongs = 1 mile
  • 1 mile = 80 chains = 320 rods = 1,760 yards = 5,280 ft = 1,609.344 meters
  • league = 3 statute miles = 4,828.032 meters

Land Longitude Square and Surveyors Measure
 

7.92 Ins.-----------------------------------------------------------Link 10 Sq. Chains----------------------------------------------------Acre
12   Ins.--------------------------------------------------------------Ft. 160 Sq. Rods----------------------------------------------------Acre
144 Sq. Ins.---------------------------------------------------Sq. Ft. 4840 Sq. Rods-------------------------------------------------- Acre
3 Ft.---------------------------------------------------------------Yard 43560 Sq. Ft. ---------------------------------------------------Acre
9 Sq Ft. ---------------------------------------------------- Sq. Yard 40 Rods ------------------------------------------------------ Furlong
6 Ft. (A mans reach)--------------------------------------- Fathom 8 Furlongs --------------------------------------------Standard mile
25 Links----------------------------------------------------------- Rod 640 Acres (1 sq. mile) ----------------------------------1 Sq. Mile
5 1/2 Yds.---------------------------------------------------------Rod 1760 Yds.------------------------------------------------------ 1 mile
16 1/2 Ft.----------------------------------------------------------Rod 5280 Ft. -------------------------------------------- 1 Common mile
30 1/4 Sq. Ft. --------------------------------------------1 sq. Rod 6080.20 Ft.------------------------------------------ 1 nautical mile
16 1/2 Ft.   ---------------------------------------------------- Perch 6076.097 Ft. ----------------------------------------------1 Air mile
40 Sq. rods ---------------------------------------------------- Rood 640 Acres (1 Sq. mile)----------------------------------- 1 section
600 Ft.(100 Fathoms) ----------------------------------------cables length 320 Acres ----------------------------------------------- 1/2 section
100 Ft.------------------------------------------------------ 1 section 160 acres ----------------------------------------------  1/4 section
66 Ft. ------------------------------------------------------------ chain 80 acres ------------------------------------------------- 1/8 section
4 rods------------------------------------------------------------ chain 40 acres ----------------------------------------------- 1/16 section
4 perches ------------------------------------------------------- chain 20 Acres ----------------------------------------------- 1/32 section
4 poles ---------------------------------------------------------  chain 10 acres ----------------------------------------------- 1/64 section
100 links -------------------------------------------------------- chain 23040 Acres ------------------------------------- 1 USA Township
4 Roods --------------------------------------------------------- acre 3 standard miles--------------------------------------------- League

 

 

Long Measure

Sq. Measure

Surveyors Measure

Cubic Measure

12 ins.-----------------------1 ft. 144 Sq. Ins.-----------1 Sq. Ft. 7.92 Ins.---------1 Link 1728 Cubic Ins.------------ 1 cubic Ft.
3 Ft.----------------------  1 Yd. 9 Sq. Ft. -------------1 Sq. Yd. 25 Links -------- 1 Rod 27 Cubic Ft.--------------1 Cubic yard
5 1/2 Yds.  ------------- 1 Rod 30 1/4 Sq. Yd -- ---1 sq. Rod 10 Chains ----- 1 Acre 128 Cubic Ft.-----------(1 cord wood)
40 Rods-------------  1 Furlong 40 Sq. Rods ---------- 1 Rood 160 Sq. Rods --1 acre 40 Cubic Ft.----------- 1 ton(shipping)
8 Furlongs -------------- 1 Mile 4 Roods ---------------- 1 Acre 640 Acres---1 Sq. Mi. 2150.42cubic ins. ------ 1 standard bushel
3 Miles  ------------- 1 League 640 Acres ----------- 1 Sq. Mi. 36 miles Sq.----Township 231 Cubic Ins.-------USA standard gallon
    6 Mi.Sq.---- Township 1 Cubic Ft. ----------- 4/5 of a bushel

 

 

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