Governmental Subdivision Descriptions

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Governmental Subdivision Descriptions


 United States Governmental subdivision descriptions rely upon the rectangular system of cadastral* survey.  The Land Ordinance of 1785 adopted the rectangular cadastral survey system for the lands ceded by the original individual states to the United States.  The Northwest Territory Act** extended that survey system to all public lands patented or surveyed by the United States after May 18, 1796.  Land descriptions for most lands in Alabama employ the rectangular survey system because most Alabama lands derive from patents issued by the United States Government after 1796.  Spanish land grants along the Gulf Coast and nearby rivers do not use the rectangular survey system  of description.


[*Cadastral: (i) of or relating to a cadastre; (ii) showing or recording property boundaries, subdivision lines, buildings, and related details.  Cadastre: an official register of the quantity, value, and ownership of real estate used in apportioning taxes. Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, 154 (1973).]

[**Now codified in 43 U.S.C.A. §751 (1986).]


 The rectangular survey system uses parallel north-south lines called “meridians” located six miles apart to cross east-west lines called “ranges” that are also six miles apart.***   The crisscrosses form squares called “townships” that each contain six square miles.

[***43 U.S.C.A. §751 (1986).]


 Each township is divided into 36 sections of 640 acres by section lines that are parallel to the meridians and the ranges and that are one mile apart. Id.  The sections are numbered consecutively beginning with the section in the northeast corner of the township and proceeding west to the west side of the township.  The numbering then drops down to the next tier of sections, beginning at the west and proceeding to the east.  This serpentine method of numbering the sections continues until all 36 sections are numbered. Id.  The sections can then be further divided into fractional sections.****  The description method for governmental subdivisions is to state the fractional section, section number, township, range, state, and county.

[**** 43 U.S.C.A. §752 (1986).]


 Rectangles are the customary shapes of fractional parts of governmental section.  For example, acceptable descriptions include the “E 1/2 of Section 26,” and the “NE 1/4 of Section 26.”  Alabama also recognizes triangular fractional sections.  In the case of Riggin v. Hogg, 82 So. 341 (Ala. 1919), the Alabama Supreme Court found that a description of the “NW 1/2” of a section describes a triangle circumscribed by lines from the southwest corner to the northeast corner to the northwest corner.

Copyright 2011 by Edward G, Hawkins. All rights reserved.