Surveying Units and Terms

Acre – The (English) acre is a physical unit equal to 43560 square feet, or 10 square chains, or 160 square poles.  A square mile is 640 acres.  The Scottish acre is 1.27 English acres.  Originally: open country, untenanted land, forest.

B.O.- Abbreviation for Blackjack Oak, which is used extensively within the surveys as a marker or point of reference.

Chain – Unit of length usually understood to be Gunter’s chain, but possibly variant by locale.  Chains equal to 2 poles (one half the standard length) are found in Virginia.  The name comes form the heavy metal chain of 100 links that was used by surveyors to measure property bounds.
Chain Bearer (CB)   Also known as chain carrier or sworn chain carrier (CC, SCC):  They were land surveyor's assistants; handled measuring chain. Generally, there was a legal requirement that chain carriers take an oath as to the honesty of their work; therefore the chain carrier should have been of legal age.  It was a common practice for a member of the family to serve as a chain bearer for the surveyor. In Robert Gibson's 1796 Treatise of Practical Surveying he commented that, "The surveyor should be careful to have his chain measured before he proceeds [on surveys]..." for consistent precision. In the Speculation Lands Collection each individual survey consisted of two chain bearers (item 0712 comprises of three). The rear man or "hinder chainman" stood by the starting stake with one end of the chain while the front man, carrying the other end unrolled the chain as he went toward a mark. Furthermore, Gibson argued that the success of a survey, depended on the care and skill of the rear chain bearer.  He had to ensure that the front man was always in line with the mark. "The inaccuracies of most survey's arise from bad chaining" recorded Gibson.
 Engineer’s Chain – A 100 foot chain containing 100 links of one foot apiece.
 Gunter’s Chain - Unit of length equal to 66 feet, or 4 poles.  This unit was apparently defined as one tenth of a furlong, a common unit of length in previous times.  The mile was redefined from 5000 feet to 5280 feet in order to be an even multiple of furlongs.  A mile is basically 80 chains.
Corner - The beginning or end point of any survey line. When "corner" is used, it doesn't necessarily imply that the tract is square.
Conditional line - An agreed line between neighbors that has not been surveyed.
Deed -  A conveyence of property from one person to another in writing, signed by the grantor (seller). The legal document that is signed and sealed and delivered to effect a transfer of property. A deed is the evidence of legal right to possess property. Early deeds may be on paper or parchment and generally were required to be signed and also sealed [stamped seal]. They indicated some form of conveyance, transfer, contract, or bargain, generally involving real estate. 
Entry - Also called a claim, application or petition. Following the warrant, an entry is made in the county surveyor's book. This does not necessarily mean that the Secretary of State has a record of the entry, as the process is preliminary.
Escheats - Refers to the lands that may not be re-patented when a patentee dies without heirs (or is convicted of a crime). The land is said to "escheat."
Governor's Grant - The finalizing of a patent when the document is signed by the governor and the secretary of state. 
Hectare - Metric unit of area equal to 10,000 square meters, or 2.471 acres.
Landmark - A survey mark made on a ‘permanent’ feature of the land such as a tree, pile of stones, etc.
Line Tree - Any tree that is on a property line, specifically one that is also a corner to another property. Meander - “with the meanders of the stream” means the survey line follow the twists and turns of the stream.
Link - Unit of length equal to 1/100 chain (7.92 inches).
Metes and Bounds Survey Method - a system of surveying used by the original 13 colonies and later by Maine, Vermont, Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, West Virginia and some of Ohio. The system requires specific description regarding the survey lines, the natural features, and the names of owners of any adjoining property. See for a complete explanation of the system. 
Out – An ‘out’ was ten chains.  When counting out lines, the chain carriers would put a stake at the end of a chain, move the chain and put a stake at the end, and so on until they ran “out” of ten stakes.
Patent - "Patenting" is the formal issuance and the recording of a land title from one entity to another or to a group of individuals. To create a patent required four steps: First, the individual who sought to create a patent found the land to be included in the patent and filled out an application to an entry taker. Second, the warrant was delivered to Claims Court where a survey was taken of the land to locate prominent landmarks, such as rivers or mountains. Third, the surveyor formalized the broad outlines of the patent by adding specific length directions (in poles and chains) from one landmark to another, and created his own, more specific map that showed the exact boundaries of the patent. Fourth, the prospective landowner paid a flat fee to the state for creating the patent, as well as a per-acre fee that depended upon the size of the patent. Upon receipt of the fees, copies were made of the patent and its map (plat)  for the county and state secretary’s office. After acknowledging the patent fees, the map and deed of ownership were issued to the landowner.
Point of Beginning - The starting point of the survey.
Plat - A drawing of a parcel of land.
P.O.- Abbreviation for Post Oak, which is used extensively within the surveys as a marker or point of reference.
Pole - Unit of length and area.  Also known as a perch or rod.  As a unit of length, equal to 16.5 feet.  As a unit of area, equal to a square with sides one pole long.  An acre is 100 square poles.  It was common to see an area referred to as “87 poles, 112 poles”, meaning 87 and 112/160 acres.
Quit Rent - A patent is essentially a long-term lease and implies that the lessor must pay for the lease of the land. Under British law an annual rent was due the Crown. When the land is sold the new owner takes on the lease and the payment of rent. This practice continued in the Colonies. It is roughly equivalent to tax on the land.
R.O.- Abbreviation for Red Oak, which is used extensively within the surveys as a marker or point of reference.
Rod – See pole
Rood - Unit of area usually equal to ¼ acre.
S.O.- Abbreviation for Spanish Oak, which is used extensively within the surveys as a marker or point of reference.
Survey - Later, sometimes called a "plat". The actual field survey that contains the metes and bounds of the land and accurately depicts the tract.  Surveys may be narrative only or contain plats and narrative.
Warrant - This document authorizes the survey to be made and often includes the survey information. Warrants do not convey title nor do they legally define the specific tract location. Warrants are made to the granting authority, though they may also be made directly to the surveyor. 
Witness Tree - Generally used in the public land states and refers to the trees close to a section corner.  The surveyor blazes them and notes their position relative to the corner in his notebook.  Witness trees are used as evidence for the corner location.
W.O.- Abbreviation for White Oak, which is used extensively within the surveys as a marker or point of reference.

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