A survey is a drawing of a piece of property showing all boundary lines and the physical features of the property, if any, and usually includes the legal description of the property.
Surveys have been around since the beginning of land ownership and are still in use today. If you have ever purchased a house your closing package probably included a small drawing of your property with your house (if in existence) along with any easements, roads, ponds, creeks, etc. all neatly placed. Your closing attorney probably referred to this small drawing as a Plot Plan but it was actually a survey of your property.
The surveyors job is (and was) to physically walk a piece of property, mark all boundary lines of the property as they are identified in a bill of sale, produce a small drawing of the property showing those boundary lines and any features (existing house, ponds, creeks, roads, etc.), to reduce the physical boundaries to a legal description based on his survey and to certify that the boundary lines and legal description are accurate.
If a piece of property is being sold by an individual and is not being divided the legal description on the seller's deed is verified by the surveyor.
In State Land States the usual steps to purchase land that had never been owned by an individual was for a man to locate property he wanted to own, apply for a patent on the land, a surveyor was hired to mark the boundaries and come up with a legal description of the property, the buyer paid the necessary purchase price or used Just Cause in place of money and the patent was issued. The buyer took his patent to the local courthouse (or equivalent) in the county where the property was located and record his purchase.
In Public Domain States the land was surveyed by a very orderly system and the first survey located all property on a large grid and the surveyors job was to be sure that section markers were accurately placed. For land that had never been owned by an individual the land was sold through a local land office and the original survey was used.
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